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DEXA Scan

What is this test?

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 the test is 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

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.

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