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What Is DEXA Scan?

A DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) scan is the most commonly used test for measuring bone mineral density (BMD), and it is one of the most accurate ways to diagnose osteoporosis and osteopenia. DEXA exams estimate the amount of bone mineral content in specific areas of your body by measuring the amount of X-rays that are absorbed by the bones. Two X-ray energies allow the radiologist to tell the difference between bone and soft tissue, giving a very accurate estimation of bone density. Often confused with a nuclear medicine bone scan, a DEXA scan is faster, has a negligible radiation dose and does not require a radionuclide injection.

DEXA scans are used to measure bone mineral density because they are more accurate than regular X-rays. A person would need to lose 20-30% of their bone density before it would show on an X-ray. DEXA measurements are accurate and reproducible, allowing your physician to confidently determine if treatment is necessary. DEXA scans also require much less radiation exposure than a CAT scan and are less costly.

What Are Osteoporosis and Osteopenia?

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by a loss of bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. It is a silent disease by which a patient may suffer fractures after a minimal trauma, such as a fall. These fractures are common and may result in significant incapacitation or even death. Osteopenia is a condition where bone mineral density is lower than normal and is considered by many healthcare providers to be a precursor to osteoporosis. However, not every person diagnosed with osteopenia will develop osteoporosis. Fortunately, both osteoporosis and osteopenia can be diagnosed and treated before any fractures occur.

Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. This is due to a lower level of bone tissue in women versus men. After menopause, women begin to lose bone mass more quickly as their estrogen levels decline. An estimated 1 in 2 women will experience an osteoporotic fracture in her lifetime.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends screening DEXA scans every two years for persons in the following groups:

• Women 65 years and older

• Women of menopausal age with risk factors for osteoporosis

• Post-menopausal women under age 65 with risk factors for osteoporosis

• People who have had a broken bone after age 50

• Men 70 years and older

• Men 60-69 years of age with risk factors for osteoporosis

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

• Age: As you age, your chance of developing osteoporosis increases as you continue to lose bone mass.

• Dietary Factors: People who have a lack of calcium and vitamin D in their diets are at greater risk.

• Cigarettes and Coffee: Smoking and a high level of coffee intake are factors that lead to a decline in bone density.

• Menopausal and Post-Menopausal: Estrogen helps to maintain bone mass. As women go through menopause, the reduction in estrogen levels are greatly reduced causing their bone mass to decline.

• Lack of Exercise: Inactivity and immobility also increases the chance of osteoporosis.

• Family History: It has been noted by some studies that genetic factors influence one’s bone density as well.

• Medications: Various painkillers are known to reduce bone mass if taken for an extended period of time.

How Should I Prepare?

You should avoid vitamins and calcium or mineral supplements the day of the exam.

What Should I Expect?

You will be asked to lie very still while you breathe normally throughout the procedure. A scanner arm will pass over the area of interest. An exam usually consists of scans of the spine and hip. On average, DEXA scans generally take around 20 minutes.

For your safety and the protection of others, we do not allow anyone other than patients in our exam rooms.

How Do I Get The Results?

After your study, the images will be evaluated by one of our board-certified radiologists with expertise in DEXA scans. A final report will be sent to your doctor or healthcare provider, who can then discuss the results with you in detail.

Reports are also available on the MyRAD Patient Portal

Meet Rachel, Tucson businesswoman

Rachel told her doctor that osteoporosis ran in her family, so he referred her for a DEXA scan in Tucson at Radiology Ltd. Her DEXA exam was fast, easy and painless. The DEXA scan confirmed that Rachel was in the early stages of osteoporosis. Rachel now takes measures to control her osteoporosis through diet, exercise and medication.