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What Goes On During a DEXA Bone Density Scan?


Osteoporosis (a loss of bone density) is a serious condition that affects approximately 200 million people worldwide. It’s especially common among women and affects one in three women over the age of 50.

In order to prevent osteoporosis, it’s important to keep an eye on your current bone density. One of the best and easiest ways to do this is by getting regular DEXA bone density scans.

If you’ve been wondering what to expect during a DEXA bone density scan or why you should get one, you’ve come to the right place.

Read on to learn more about these scans and their benefits.

What is a DEXA Bone Density Scan?

DEXA is short for dual photon x-ray absorptiometry.

DEXA bone density scan is a simple test that examines the state of your skeletal system and lets you know whether you are at risk of osteoporosis or are beginning to develop it.

Anyone can have a DEXA bone density scan done. They’re generally recommended for people who meet the following qualifications, though:

  • Those aged 50 or older
  • Those who have smaller body frames or low body weights
  • Women who have gone through menopause
  • Those who have broken bones in the past
  • Men who are suffering from low testosterone
  • Those who are losing their height
  • Those who are dealing with osteopenia (low bone mass, which can be a precursor to osteoporosis)
  • Those who have a family history of osteoporosis

DEXA bone density scans are totally safe and painless. They expose individuals to just a minuscule amount of radiation.

Benefits of a Bone Density Scan

There are lots of reasons why someone ought to have a DEXA bone density scan done. Some of the greatest benefits these scans have to offer include:

  • Diagnose osteopenia and osteoporosis sooner, which allows individuals to receive treatment sooner and prevent the condition from getting worse
  • Assess one’s fracture risk so individuals can adjust their lifestyle accordingly
  • Monitors the progression of osteopenia and osteoporosis
  • Monitors the effectiveness of osteoporosis treatments so physicians can tailor treatment plans in the most appropriate way

At first, a DEXA bone scan might seem unnecessary or like a luxury. The truth, though, is that the information gathered from this scan can be lifesaving and help you to live a more healthful life. 

What to Expect During a Bone Density Scan

If you’re feeling nervous about undergoing a bone density scan, it helps to know what to expect during the procedure.

DEXA bone scans are a straightforward procedure and don’t cause any pain. They usually go something like this:

  • You’ll change into a hospital gown and remove all metal objects (jewelry, eyeglasses, etc.)
  • You’ll lie flat on your back on a padded table
  • A technician will place the imaging device above you and the x-ray generator below you
  • The imaging arm will slowly move the imaging device over your body—nothing will touch you directly
  • The technician will look closely at the hips and spine as well as other areas like the wrist, lower arm, finger, and vertebrae

The full scan takes between 10 and 30 minutes to complete. It’s painless and will end before you know it. Keep in mind that you’ll need to lie still during the entirety of the scan to ensure the images don’t come out blurry.

How to Prepare for a Bone Density Scan

There’s not much that you need to do to prepare for a bone density scan. The main rule is that you should stop taking calcium supplements the day before your scan is scheduled.

Physicians recommend avoiding exams that require the use of contrast dye seven days before your scan. This dye could affect the results of your test and make it harder to evaluate the images from the scan.

Be sure to wear loose, comfortable clothing to the facility, and make sure it doesn’t contain any metal.

Interpreting the Results

After your bone scan is complete, you’ll likely hear back from your doctor within a week or so to go over the results. 

There are two different ways that the results of your scan can be reported.

The first option is known as a T-score. T-scores compare your bone density to the optimal peak bone density for people of your gender.

A T-score that is greater than -1 is considered to be normal. A T-score that ranges from -1 to -2.5 indicates a risk of developing osteoporosis in the future. A T-score of less than -2.5 indicates that you are already suffering from osteoporosis.

The second scoring option is known as a Z-score. Z-scores compares your bone density to others of the same age, ethnicity, weight, and gender. 

A Z-score of -2.0 is considered to be normal.

A Z-score of less than -1.5 is considered to be cause for concern. It’s also a sign that other factors could be contributing to osteoporosis. This includes things like thyroid problems, malnutrition, and medication side effects.

How to Improve Your Bone Density

If the results of your scan indicate that you are at risk of developing osteoporosis or are already dealing with it, your physician will likely recommend that you take steps to increase your bone density or prevent future bone loss.

The following are some suggestions he or she might make:

  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Performing weight-bearing and strength training exercises
  • Eating adequate amounts of protein
  • Consuming adequate amounts of calcium from food and/or supplements
  • Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D and vitamin K (both of which promote calcium absorption)
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight

All of these practices can help to protect your bones and minimize your risk of bone loss and fractures.

Schedule Your Scan Today

Now that you know more about a DEXA bone density scan and how they work, are you interested in trying one for yourself?

The more you know about your current bone density status, the more you can do to improve or maintain it and reduce your risk of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis in the future.

If you live in or around the Paterson or Flemington areas and want to get a DEXA bone density scan done, contact us at PINK Breast Center today to schedule an appointment.

We offer a variety of other women’s health services too, including mammography, ultrasound, and medically directed weight loss.

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