Bone Density Testing: What You Need to Know About DEXA Scan

What is a DEXA scan?
A DEXA scan is a fast, easy, painless test that measures the density of your bones. This scan is used to treat both men and women. Generally, the denser your bones are, the stronger they are and less likely to break.

How is a DEXA scan used?
A DEXA scan can help determine whether you have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing it.

Why is a DEXA scan used?
A DEXA scan is used to assess your bone mineral density and determine whether the readings are lower than normal for your age and sex. It is mainly used to detect osteoporosis in its early stages as it is very sensitive to slight changes in bone density. It can also determine if you have a lower bone density level (osteopenia), brittle bone disease or osteomalacia (vitamin D deficiency).

What is the difference between a DEXA scan and an X-ray?
A DEXA scan is more sensitive than a normal X-ray. It can also measure the calcium content in your bones which cannot be measured by ordinary X-ray. X-rays can only detect osteoporosis when one-third of the bone mass is already gone.

How does a DEXA scan work?
A DEXA scan involves a low dose of X-ray (less than a normal X-ray) being passed across the body. The X-rays are separated into beams of differing intensity enabling the scan to detect the density of bone and soft tissue separately.

What kind of equipment is used?
At the Jean McLaughlin Women’s Center, our DEXA scans are performed using the advanced GE Healthcare Lunar iDXA™, delivering crisp, high-definition images of all skeletal sites.

What can I expect during a DEXA scan?
No preparation for the test is required. It is recommended to wear clothing without any metal fastenings. You will be asked to lie on your back and to keep still while the scan is being taken. A laser arm will then pass over you slowly during the scan. This takes approximately 20 minutes.

How are DEXA scan results obtained?
The information from the scanner is sent to a computer which calculates a score for your bone density. A low score indicates that the bone is less dense than it should be and is more likely to break. The results are sent directly to your doctor’s office within 10-14 days. Your doctor will then discuss the results with you and determine if treatment is necessary to strengthen your bones.

How can I get a DEXA scan?
A physician’s order (prescription) is required for a DEXA scan. Your physician will provide this to you if he or she suspects that you have or are at risk for osteoporosis. If you need a DEXA scan, talk to your doctor about making a referral to the Jean McLaughlin Women’s Center.


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