The only way to accurately test bone strength and solidity is through bone mineral density (BMD) tests. Bone mineral density tests measure the strength and mass (bone density) of the lumbar spine, hip, and/or wrist, which are the most common fracture areas due to osteoporosis. Other tests measure bone density in the heel or hand. These tests are performed as X-rays. They are painless, non-invasive, and safe. The risk of radiation is very minimal, much lower than even having a chest x-ray.
How much does a bone density scan cost?
The price of a bone mineral density test is greatly influenced by a series of factors including the type of bone density scan, the place where this procedure is performed, the place where you are living, and if you have health insurance or not. The cost of one of the most common BMD scans, DXA, would be anywhere between $180 and $350 without coverage. Anyway, even though you have health insurance you would have to be responsible for the co-pay, but during our research, we noticed that you may have to pay only 10% to 40% of the full sum if you have a health insurance plan, which results in $18 to $140, depending on the health insurance provider.
According to EverydayHealth.com, if you are younger than 65 years and don’t have any risk factors then most probably the cost of a BMD test will not be covered by every insurance plan. So, if you need to have this test done, plan on spending $140 to $320, depending on the clinic.
Also, according to New Choice Health, the price for a BMD test across the United States starts at $120 and can go up to more than $1,500.
Types of bone density tests
Several tests are available to assess bone density. Densitometry means measuring bone density. Densitometry tests are not painful and are completely non-invasive, which means that there is no surgery. Central machines measure density in the hip, lumbar spine, and total body. Peripheral machines measure density in the finger, wrist, knee, spine, and heel. The most common types of tests are listed below:
Dual-energy X-ray scanning (DXA) is a special low-radiation x-ray that can detect bone loss – even very small amounts of bone loss. DXA scans are the most common method of measuring bone mineral density. They are used to measure the density of the lumbar spine, forearm, and hip bones. Double-peripheral energy X-ray absorptiometry (pDXA) measures bone density in the forearm, toe, and heel. Single-energy X-ray absorptiometry (SXA) measures bone density in the wrist or heel.
Quantitative computed tomography (QCT) measures the bones of the lower spine (lumbar) because these bones change as a person gets older. Peripheral QCT scanning (pQCT) measures the density of the forearm bones.
Quantitative ultrasound (QUS) uses sound waves to measure the density of the bones in the heel and toe.
X-ray (RA) scanning uses an X-ray film of the hand and a small metal wedge to calculate bone density.
Bone density test details
During the test, the patient is lying on a table between the X-ray source and the detector (neither the source nor the detector touches the patient). The X-ray detector moves to the affected skeletal region without pain, stinging, or other discomforts.
The duration of the actual examination is 5-10 minutes. The examination does not require special training, the patient can remain dressed if the clothes do not contain metallic elements.
However, the examination is not performed for pregnant women or shortly after the administration of a contrast agent (for urography, computed tomography, barium transit, etc.). In these cases, it is good to wait at least 3 weeks before the respective procedure.
You may be given an X-ray to check for broken bones at a local pharmacy or doctor’s office with the help of a small portable device. It can scan small bones like your finger, wrist, or heel.
What are the extra costs?
Depending on the test results, the specialist may make various recommendations, from prescribing a medication that maintains or builds the bone apparatus, to emphasizing the importance of regular exercise and ensuring an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D.
Important things to consider
No special preparation is required before performing an osteodensitometry. The day before the procedure the patient should eat food as on a normal day, though, no calcium supplements should be taken at least 24 hours before the investigation.
If a person has any of the following risk factors or other signs of osteoporosis, their doctor may recommend measuring their bone mass. Risk factors for osteoporosis include the following:
- Advancing age;
- Early menopause (age <45 years);
- Female gender;
- Asian or white race;
- Family history of hip fracture;
- Low body weight;
- Long-term corticosteroid therapy;
- Chronic disorders associated with osteoporosis, such as anorexia nervosa or liver disease;
- Anterior broken bones with minimal trauma;
- Poor diet without enough calcium and vitamin D;
- Difficulty in exercising;
How can I save money?
The bone density scan should be done as you start taking medications for thinning bones, anytime during menopause or if you are older than 65. Health insurance companies will cover it as long as it is deemed medically necessary. To be sure that the cost for this test is covered by your health insurance plan you should check with your insurance provider. Oftentimes you will have to support the costs.
If you’re not insured, consider paying cash. Many providers offer discounts to those who pay in full and some hospitals may be able to provide assistance for people that meet certain income requirements or have wages lower than average.