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Bone densitometry

Bone densitometry procedure
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Knowing your bone strength can help protect you from injury

Bone densitometry, also known as dual-energy X-ray absorption (DEXA), is a painless test to help your doctor diagnose osteoporosis or to determine whether certain steps should be taken to protect your bone health. The results from your DEXA exam can help you understand the strength of your bones. Your results will be compared with the peak bone mass of a healthy adult of your same sex. A bone densitometry exam is more precise than conventional diagnostic imaging (X-rays) and can help to diagnose bone loss at an early stage.

Talk with your healthcare provider about having a bone densitometry test if you have one or more of the following risk factors for osteoporosis:

  • Your mother, grandmother or another close relative had osteoporosis or bone fractures.
  • You have low body weight, a slight build or a light complexion.
  • You have a history of cigarette smoking or heavy drinking.
  • You experienced the early onset of menopause, naturally or surgically; (early is defined as before the age of 45).
  • Over a long period of time, you have taken medication that accelerates bone loss such as corticosteroids for treating rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions, or some anti-seizure medications.
  • You have already experienced a bone fracture that may be the result of thinning bones.
  • Your heritage is Caucasian or Asian.

What to expect during a bone densitometry exam

The DEXA exam has two parts: one to assess your spine and the other to assess your hips. For the spine scan, you will lie flat on your back with your legs elevated. For the hip scan, you will lie on your back with your legs outstretched. Both hips will be scanned, unless you have had a hip replacement. In that case, the hip without replacement would be scanned. If both hips have been replaced, only your spine will be scanned.

For both parts, the detector portion of the machine will slowly pass over the area without direct contact with your body. At no time is your body confined or enclosed or your face covered. The exam typically takes 15 to 20 minutes.

Preparing for a bone densitometry exam

You may eat normally on the day of your exam; however, you should avoid taking calcium supplements for at least 24 hours before the test

Tell your doctor if you have recently had a barium exam or have been injected with a contrast medium for a CT scan or had a nuclear medicine exam. Your doctor may wish to postpone a DEXA scan for five to seven days.

For your safety

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant. Your doctor may decide to postpone the exam or use an alternative exam such as an ultrasound to reduce the possible risk of exposing your baby to radiation.

Tell your doctor if you have recently had a barium exam or have been injected with a contrast medium for a CT scan or had a nuclear medicine exam. Your doctor may wish to postpone a DEXA scan for five to seven days.