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  • DEXA - Bone Densitometry Bone density scans, also known as DEXA scans, help to work out your risk of breaking a bone. They're often used to help diagnose bone-related health problems, such as osteoporosis, or to assess the risk of getting them.

WHAT IS BONE DENSITY SCAN DEXA?

Bone density scanning, also called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone densitometry, is an enhanced form of x-ray technology that is used to measure bone loss. DXA is today’s established standard for measuring bone mineral density (BMD).

An x-ray (radiograph) is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. Imaging with x-rays involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging.

DXA is most often performed on the lower spine and hips. In children and some adults, the whole body is sometimes scanned. Peripheral devices that use x-ray or ultrasound are sometimes used to screen for low bone mass, mostly at the forearm. In some communities, a CT scan with special software can also be used to diagnose or monitor low bone mass (QCT). This is accurate but less commonly used than DXA scanning.

HOW DOES BONE DENSITOMETRY SCAN WORK?

This examination is usually done on an outpatient basis.

In the central DXA examination, which measures the bone density of the hip and spine, the patient lies on a padded table. An x-ray generator is located below the patient and an imaging device, or detector, is positioned above.

To assess the spine, the patient’s legs are supported on a padded box to flatten the pelvis and lower (lumbar) spine. To assess the hip, the patient’s foot is placed in a brace that rotates the hip inward. In both cases, the detector is slowly passed over the area, generating images on a computer monitor.

You must hold very still and may be asked to keep from breathing for a few seconds while the x-ray picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image. The technologist will walk behind a wall or into the next room to activate the x-ray machine.

The peripheral tests are simpler. The finger, hand, forearm, or foot is placed in a small device that obtains a bone density reading within a few minutes.

An additional procedure called Vertebral Fracture Assessment (VFA) is now being done at many centers. VFA is a low-dose x-ray examination of the spine to screen for vertebral fractures that are performed on the DXA machine.

The VFA test adds only a few minutes to the DXA procedure.

The DXA bone density test is usually completed within 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the equipment used and the parts of the body being examined.

You will probably be asked to fill out a questionnaire that will help the doctor determine if you have medical conditions or take certain medications that either increase or decrease your risk of a fracture. The World Health Organization has recently released an online survey that combines the DXA results and a few basic questions and can be used to predict a 10-year risk of hip fracture or other major osteoporotic fractures for post-menopausal women.

Frequently Asked Questions

On the day of the exam, you may eat normally. You should not take calcium supplements for at least 24 hours before your exam.

You should wear loose, comfortable clothing, avoiding garments that have zippers, belts, or buttons made of metal. Objects such as keys or wallets that would be in the area being scanned should be removed.

You will be asked to remove some of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam. You may also be asked to remove jewelry, removable dental appliances, eyeglasses, and any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.

Bone density tests are a quick and painless procedure.

Routine evaluations every two years may be needed to see a significant change in bone mineral density, decrease or increase. Few patients, such as patients on high-dose steroid medication, may need follow-up at six months.

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