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What is a Bone Densitometry or DXA Scan?
Bone Densitometry is a quick and painless low dose x-ray exam that measures bone mineral density. It is an accurate way to help your doctor detect osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a gradual loss of calcium that causes the bones to become thinner, more fragile and more likely to break. If your bone density is found to be low, your doctor will work with you on a treatment plan to help prevent fractures before they occur.
How is the procedure performed?
The DXA bone density test takes between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the parts of the body being examined. You may be asked to undress and put on a hospital gown.
The technologist will explain the procedure and answer any questions you may have before the exam. A brief health history may be taken at this time, also. This information is necessary to determine your risk for osteoporosis. You will be asked to lie down on the DXA scan table. You may be asked to hold an awkward position for a short time while the arm of the machine passes over your body. During this time the machine will be taking measurements and it is important for you to hold as still as possible to ensure that the images are as clear as possible.
On the day of the exam you may eat and drink normally, but don't take any calcium supplements or multi-vitamin supplements with calcium. The supplements will prevent an accurate reading of your bone density. You may take other medication you use on a normal basis. If you have had a barium examination or have been injected for a CAT scan or a radioisotope scan; you may have to wait 10-14 days before you can undergo a DXA scan, as these materials will prevent an accurate reading of your bone density. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and avoid clothing that have zippers or buttons made of metal.
What are the benefits vs. risks?
DXA bone density testing is the most accurate method available for the diagnosis of osteoporosis. It is also considered an accurate estimator of fracture risk. It will not tell whether you will or will not have a fracture, but gives relative risk of suffering a fracture, just as cholesterol and blood pressure help determine risk for heart disease. A low reading should not cause you to be anxious, but may help you set healthy goals. As with other diseases and conditions, early detection is the key to prevention of further bone loss and eventual fractures. DXA equipment is widely available, making DXA bone densitometry testing convenient for patients and doctors alike.
No complications are expected with the DXA procedure.
If you are of child bearing age and think there is any possibility of pregnancy it is important that you inform the physician ordering these x-rays and tell the technologist taking your x-rays.