What is a DEXA scan?

A DEXA scan is a special X-ray exam to see if your bones are healthy and strong. It may also be called a bone density test or DXA scan. The test measures the thickness (density) and strength of your bones. It is painless. It is not a scan of the entire body and does not show the internal soft organs.

Bones naturally get thinner as you get older. This weakens the bones, and weaker bones put you at higher risk for fractures, such as a spine fracture or broken hip.

Bone density tests show bone loss sooner than regular X-rays, before as much bone is lost. The test helps your healthcare provider decide if you need treatment for osteoporosis.

When is it used?

A DEXA scan may be done for several reasons:

  • You are a woman age 65 and older or a man age 70 and older. If you have a high risk for osteoporosis, you should have the test at a younger age.
  • You have a family history of osteoporosis.
  • You take a medicine that may weaken your bones.
  • You have an increased risk for osteoporosis, for example, because you smoke, are a heavy drinker, don’t get regular exercise, or have a medical condition such as high thyroid levels.
  • You have had unusual or frequent fractures.

Your provider will review your risk factors and talk to you about whether you should have a bone density test.

How do I prepare for this scan?

  • You may or may not need to take your regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell your healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements that you take. Ask your provider if you need to avoid taking any medicine or supplements, such as calcium, before the test.
  • Don’t wear clothing with buttons, snaps, or zippers on the day of the test. If you wear pants with an elastic waistband or cloth tie, you won’t need to get undressed for the test.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you have recently had X-ray tests using barium or any nuclear medicine tests. You may need to wait up to two weeks after those tests before you have a bone density test.
  • Tell your healthcare provider if you are or might be pregnant.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens during the scan?

During the test you lie down on a padded table. You will need to lie still while the test is being done, but you can breathe normally. The hip and spine are the most common areas checked because they are most likely to break if your bones are weak.

What happens after the scan?

You can go home after the scan is completed. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

The amount of radiation used for this test is very low. It is less than you are exposed to during a typical chest X-ray. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-10
Last reviewed: 2014-11-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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