Bone Densitometry (DEXA)


What is Bone Densitometry?

Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is an imaging technology that uses a very low amount of X-ray energy to detect the presence of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease that gradually weakens bones, leading to bone fragility and an increased chance of fractures to the spine, hips and wrists. This weakening may be due to aging or caused by other risk factors that combine with age. Often called the “silent disease,” osteoporosis rarely shows symptoms until a lot of bone mass has been lost. The most visible symptoms may include loss of height along with curvature of the upper back.

DEXA scanning can identify low bone density in patients at an early stage, enabling doctors to prescribe appropriate treatment before the condition worsens. Images of the lower spine and hips are most often used in checking for osteoporosis. The test results are then read thoroughly and interpreted by radiologists, who sub-specialize in Musculoskeletal Radiology. For more information on this and other radiology procedures, please visit www.radiologyinfo.org.

Who needs a bone density scan?

While the disease affects both men and women, 80% of those affected are women. In fact, 22 million American women are affected by osteoporosis. Women have a higher risk for osteoporosis than men because women often have smaller, thinner frames. In addition, menopause causes women to produce less estrogen, a hormone that helps protect them against bone loss; 20% of bone mass can be lost in the first 5-7 years following menopause.

If you’re nearing menopause, your doctor or healthcare professional can give you good advice to help you avoid future problems with osteoporosis. If you are post-menopausal, stay in touch with your doctor to monitor your bone health on a regular basis. If you don’t know if you have osteoporosis, ask whether a bone density test is right for you. Your doctor will need to refer you for this exam. For your convenience, Bone Density exams can be scheduled along with your mammogram appointment.

During your examination

You will be asked to lie on your back on a padded table while a movable arm passes over your body. A technician will remain with you and you will feel no sensations from the exam, which typically takes 15 to 30 minutes.

After your examination

The DEXA scanner computes a numerical reading of bone strength, called a T-score, that is used to compare your bone density with established values.

Your physician will receive a report of the DEXA findings, they will then advise you of the results and discuss what further procedures, if any, are needed. If you have low bone density, you may be advised to take calcium supplements or other medication. Your physician may also recommend that you participate in some kind of weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, to strengthen your bones.