Bone Density

What is a Bone Density Test?

Bone density tests measure the mineral density in bones using a brief, weak burst of x-rays. This test helps doctors to identify bone loss early, as well as to assess for the risk of fractures and osteoporosis based on how much density has been lost. Knowing what to expect during your exam will help you to be prepared and feel at ease.

What is DEXA?

DEXA (also sometimes written as DXA) is a type of bone density test. It stands for Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry and is the most commonly used bone density test due to its non-invasive nature and reliability. This type of test is performed using advanced technology that is very accurate and precise. It is most often performed on the pelvis and lower spine but can be ordered on other areas as well, such as your forearm. The results of a DEXA scan can give doctors the information they need to assess the state of other bones in your body as well.

Before your exam

You will be asked to remove all metal such as jewelry, belts, and glasses before the exam to ensure the best quality images. If you have or may have metal in your body, such as an implant or medical device, it is important to let your radiologist know. The test will not interfere with these things, but they will appear in the results, and may cause bones to look more dense than they are.

Depending on the part of the body being examined (and the clothing you have worn in), you will be asked to change into an exam gown. Avoid clothing with metallic elements, such as zippers or metal buttons. These will not interfere with the test, itself, but will show up on the images and make deciphering accurate results more difficult.

You should not take calcium supplements for at least 24 hours prior to your exam.

In most cases, you will not need to make any special preparations for your exam. Any special instructions will be detailed by your radiologist when you schedule your exam.

You should also inform your physician if you have had any tests, procedures, or examinations performed which include the use of radioactive isotopes or contrast materials, such as barium exams or CT scans. You must wait at least 10-14 days after these procedures before undergoing a DEXA test.

Lastly, women should always disclose any suspicion of potential pregnancy, even if it is early and not confirmed yet, as exposing a fetus to radiation could affect its viability. For patients who are or could be pregnant the diagnostics team will take additional precautions or may order an alternative test.

What to expect during the exam

Your technician will help you get into the best position for the test. This usually means lying down with a padded support under your legs, which straightens the lumbar region of your spine. If your hips are targeted, your foot may be placed into a brace to ensure a clean shot of your pelvic area. The DEXA machine will then slowly scan your body without touching you. The exam is painless and non-invasive.

Once the exam begins, you will need to stay very still to ensure high-quality results. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds to help ensure accurate images.

Depending on the part of the body being tested, your exam should take between 10 and 30 minutes.

If your physician or the technicians opt for peripheral (arm, foot, hand) scans, that appendage will be placed in a device that will complete that particular scan in just a few minutes.

Additional VFA

You may be offered or asked to consent to a VFA (Vertebral Fracture Assessment) exam on top of the DEXA exam. A VFA is an additional, procedural review of the spine that is becoming common practice to help assess any potential damage to the spinal column. A VFA uses the same procedures, and may add just a few minutes to the DEXA scan as the machine thoroughly scans the area.

What to expect after your exam

After your exam, you can return to your normal activities right away. The images will be sent to your doctor who will interpret them and contact you with the results after a few days.

Your doctor may order follow up exams every year or two, or in some cases, as often as every few months for routine evaluations, especially if you are on high-dose steroid medications. If a follow up is ordered, it is important to schedule it as directed by your doctor.

If you have any questions or concerns before or after your exam, call us and we will be happy to help.

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