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DEXA Scan

What is the DEXA Scan?

A DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan, uses X-ray imaging to measure bone mineral density, also called bone mass. The test can identify osteoporosis, which is the gradual loss of calcium in the bones that increases the risk of fractures and breaks.

By diagnosing osteoporosis at an early stage, your doctor may be able to help you slow progression of the disease, preventing further bone loss and bone fractures.

A DEXA bone density scan is not the same as a bone scan, which is a nuclear medicine image used to detect arthritis, fractures, infections, and tumors in the bones.

Why is This Test Performed?

DEXA scans are used to:

  • Diagnose bone loss and osteoporosis
  • See how well osteoporosis medicine is working
  • Predict your risk of future bone fractures

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis happens over time your bones can become brittle and can lose strength and thickness. The DEXA scan is the standard for diagnosing osteoporosis since its quick and painless. Many health providers consider osteoporosis to be a unexpected disease because many people first realize they have osteoporosis after a minor fall or bone breaking. 

Who Should be Tested?

You are more likely to get osteoporosis if you are:

  • A woman, age 65 or older
  • A man, age 70 or older

Women under age 65 and men ages 50 to 70 are at increased risk of osteoporosis if they:

  • Have a broken bone caused by normal activities, such as a fall from standing height or lower (fragility fracture)
  • Have chronic rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, or eating disorders
  • Have early menopause (either from natural causes or surgery)
  • History of hormone treatment for prostate cancer or breast cancer
  • Have had a significant loss of height due to compression fractures of the back
  • Smoke
  • Have a strong family history of osteoporosis
  • Take corticosteroid medicines (prednisone or methylprednisolone) every day for more than 3 months
  • Take thyroid hormone replacement
  • Have three or more drinks of alcohol a day on most days

Current practice recommends DEXA retesting every two years. However, some women may be able to wait a much longer time between their screening tests. Talk to your provider about how often you should be tested.

Before Your Scan

  • Do not take any calcium supplements 24 hours before the exam.

Day of The Scan

  • Wear loose comfortable clothing with no metal attachments like zippers or metal buttons.
  • No jewelry, watches, or other wearable objects will be asked to be removed since it could interfere with the X-rays and scan results.

After Your Scan

  • Your results will be sent to an expert radiologist to examine the results.
  • If your scan shows sees signs of osteoporosis then your doctor will decide upon the best treatment and medication plan for you.

Tips for Improving Your Bone Health

  • Incorporate foods with calcium rich nutrients into your daily diet.
  • Have a weekly exercise routine you can commit doing.
  • Stop smoking and drinking any types of alcohol. 

If you are unsure about specific ways to improve your bone health, ask your doctor what is best for your health. Taking action today greatly reduces long term risk factors. 

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