Bone Density

A bone density exam, also called a DEXA scan, is a low-dose x-ray used to assess the strength of your bones and your personal risk of bone fracture. It is the most accurate study available for osteoporosis.

woman tying running shoe 

The scan measures the Bone Mineral Density (BMD) in specific bones. The calculations taken from the exam place each patient into risk classifications:

  • Osteopenia or increased fracture risk
    • Early stage bone loss
  • Osteoporosis or high fracture risk
    • Advanced/Severe Bone loss
  • Normal or no increase risk of fracture
    • No appreciated bone loss

Comparisons are done to any previous exams (if done at the same facility) to track rate of bone loss or any changes in bone density.

While bone density is an x-ray, it is not a diagnostic exam to look for actual bone fractures or other abnormalities such as arthritis. If you are concerned about the bone itself, due to injury or trauma, formal x-ray examination of the specific bone would be necessary. Speak with your doctor about any specific concerns you may have.

Why is a bone density exam done?

Osteoporosis is a loss in bone mass or density usually associated with aging. Bones that have been weakened in this way are much more easily broken and injury from falls becomes more serious.

Bone loss is very common is postmenopausal women. Estrogen replacement is often prescribed to help prevent further deterioration. Your physician will order Bone Density/DEXA scans to determine your bone health and the correction/prevention of osteoporosis.

How is a bone density exam performed?

This is a very fast and easy test. You will relax on a cushioned table for a few minutes while the scan is in progress. You may breathe and speak normally throughout the exam. As in photography, you must hold still so the image isn’t blurred.

A dedicated Bone Densitometry table is used for this procedure. You lie on your back and the overhead unit will move over the specific body part while it scans. The technologist will position you accordingly, with the use of supports to ensure proper imaging.

The most accurate areas to determine bone loss are the lower back and the hip. These areas are our first choice to scan. If you had a fracture or surgery to either area, a false reading would occur so the technologist will choose another area to scan.

Most typically scanned areas are the left hip and lower back. The right hip can be substituted for the left if necessary. The forearm may be substituted in cases when the technologist decides the lower back or the hip is not suitable. The forearm exam is done in a seated position.

The technologist will ask several questions concerning your medical history. We will want to know if you have broken any bones as an adult, if you are taking medications for bone loss/osteoporosis, or any steroidal medications. This is good information for the Radiologist, the physician that interprets the exam, to know when reading your exam.

How do I prepare?

There’s really not much to it! Wear comfortable clothes, preferably without snaps, buttons or zippers at the waist, back or front (side is fine). If you do not have any of these on your outfit, you will not need to change clothes for the exam!

Avoid taking any form of calcium the day of your test. Remember to wait until after your test to take your vitamins or any medications that include calcium. Stay away from cream in your coffee, milk, cheese and yogurt for accurate results.

Additional Radiology exams that involve contrast material or barium will interfere with your Bone Density exam. Any testing that uses contrast should be scheduled after the Bone Density or at least 1 week prior. Examples of contrast exams are Upper and Lower G.I. Series, as well as many CT and MRI scans.

How long does it take?

The scan itself takes only a minute for each area. The technologist will then analyze the scans when the exam is complete. This takes a few minutes for each area then it is sent off to the Radiologists for a final report. Your start to finish time should be around 15 minutes!

How do I get results?

We will have a final report to your doctor in 24-48 hours, we understand the importance of quick results and usually exceed this expectation. Your doctor’s office will inform you of the results.