Dexa Scans

What is a DEXA Scan?

A DEXA, or bone density, scan is an enhanced form of X-ray technology used to measure bone density and bone mineral density. It is most commonly used to diagnose osteoporosis, which is the gradual loss of calcium, causing bones to become thinner, more fragile and more likely to break. While the condition can be found in men, osteoporosis often impacts women after menopause. Therefore, beginning at age 50, patients, especially women, should receive a baseline exam.

DEXA scans are also important when trying to track the effects of treatment for osteoporosis or any other condition causing bone loss. Monitoring the progression of the patient’s bone loss or impact of the condition helps pinpoint the best possible treatment option. Finally, a DEXA scan can be used to test a patient’s risk for bone fracture. This can be valuable for older patients, as well as those who are particularly active or have had multiple fractures.

Talk to your physician or contact us to find out more about the scan.


How it Works

A DEXA scan is a quick and painless outpatient exam. During your scan, you will lie on a padded table with an X-ray generator positioned below the table and an imaging detector, DEXA machine, positioned above. The imaging detector slowly passes over the area being scanned.

During the scan, the X-ray machine sends a very thin, invisible beam of low-dose X-rays containing two clear energy peaks through the bones being examined. The first energy peak is mainly absorbed by soft tissue and the second is absorbed by bone. The soft tissue amount is then subtracted from the total, with the remainder indicating your bone mineral density. This bone density amount is calculated and displayed on a computer monitor, through the use of special software in the DEXA machine.

For the best possible results, you will need to be very still. The scan will take 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the area being scanned. When the exam is over, you will be able to drive home and function as you would normally.


Who Needs a DEXA Scan?

Anyone over 50, particularly women, should receive a baseline DEXA scan. A DEXA scan may also be valuable if you have had multiple bone fractures recently, or are experiencing excessive weakness or pain in your joints, particularly the hips or lower back.

Bone density and fracture can also be impacted by age, body weight, personal and family history, cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Therefore, physicians also recommend a bone density test if you:

  • are a post-menopausal women not taking estrogen
  • have a personal or maternal history of hip fracture or smoking
  • are a post-menopausal women who is tall (over 5 feet 7 inches) or thin (less than 125 pounds)
  • use medications that are known to cause bone loss, such as Prednisone, Dilantin or high-dose thyroid replacement drugs
  • have type 1 diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease or a family history of osteoporosis
  • have high bone turnover, symptoms of which are excessive collagen in urine samples
  • have a thyroid condition such as hyperthyroidism
  • have a parathyroid condition, such as hyperparathyroidism
  • have experienced a fracture after only mild trauma
  • have had X-ray evidence of vertebral fracture or other signs of osteoporosis

If you do not fit these criteria but feel you may need a DEXA scan, talk to your primary care physician or contact us.


Preparing for a DEXA Scan

First, it is important to note that a DEXA scan requires a doctor’s order (unlike a mammogram). However, this order is relatively simple to obtain and can be done one of two ways. You can receive the order from your primary care physician at your next regular appointment, or simply ask our office to call and request the order when you schedule your scan.

On the day of the scan, feel free to eat normally. Wear comfortable, loose clothing and avoid zippers, buttons and belts made of metal. You may be asked to wear a gown during the scan, and remove any jewelry, dentures, eyeglasses and any additional metal objects or clothing that could interfere with the scan. After the scan, you will be able to eat, drive and function normally.

If you have questions or concerns, feel free to contact us.

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