A bone density scan, also referred to as a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone densitometry, is a specialized x-ray procedure designed to measure bone loss. DXA is today's preferred modality for measuring bone mineral density (BMD). A bone density scan is a noninvasive procedure that provides radiologists images of the bone to help diagnose and treat medical symptoms.
Bone densitometry is used most often to diagnose osteoporosis, a condition that can affect men, but most often strikes women after menopause. Osteoporosis is the result a gradual loss of calcium and consequent structural deterioration as the bones become thinner, fragile and more subject to fracture.
A bone density scan is highly recommended:
- For women with a maternal history of hip fracture or smoking.
- For post-menopausal women who are not taking estrogen.
- For thin, post-menopausal women less than 125 pounds.
- For tall, post-menopausal women (over 5 ft. 7 in.)
- For men with clinical symptoms associated with bone loss.
- For anyone with type 1 (juvenile or insulin-dependent) diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease or anyone with a family history of osteoporosis.
- For anyone on medications known to cause bone loss, including corticosteroids like Prednisone, a variety of anti-seizure medications such as Dilantin and various barbiturates, and strong dose thyroid replacement drugs.
- Anyone having had x-ray evidence of a vertebral fracture or other symptoms of osteoporosis.
- Anyone with a thyroid condition including hyperthyroidism or having a parathyroid condition, such as hyperparathyroidism.
- Anyone with an elevated bone turnover indicated by excessive collagen in urine tests.
- Anyone having a history of a fracture resulting from only mild trauma.
How does the procedure work?
During a bone density procedure, a scanner sends a thin, low-dose x-ray beam through the bones being examined. The results of the test show images of the density of the bone. The greater the density, the healthier the bone. The if image of the bone looks spongy and full of holes, this is usually an indication of disease, such as Osteoporosis.
Who will analyze the images and send a detailed written report to your primary care or referring physician, who will discuss the results with you.
How should I prepare?
On the same day of your exam you may eat normally. However, please refrain from taking any calcium supplements for at least 24 hours prior to your exam.
Wear loose, comfortable clothing. During the exam you will need to remove anything with zippers, belts, or buttons made of metal so try to minimize this in deciding what to wear on the day of your exam. Things like jewelry, eye glasses, keys, cell phones, wallets, or other metal objects may need to be removed and set asside as well.
Inform your medical personnel if you have recently had a barium examine or if you have been injected with a contrast material for a computed tomography (CT/CAT) scan or radioisotope scan. In this case, you may need to wait a week or two before undergoing a bone density scan.
It is essential that pregnant women inform their physician and x-ray technologist that they are pregnant. A variety of x-ray based exams are not performed during pregnancy in order to avoid radiation exposure to the fetus. If an x-ray is determined by your doctor to be necessary, extra precautions will be taken to minimize radiation exposure to the baby.
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