What a DEXA Scan Tells You About Bone Health

X-ray showing bonesThe bones support the rest of the body, enabling all kinds of movement and activity. Over time and with conditions like osteoporosis, the bones can lose some of their density, which increases their likelihood of breaking. If you have risk factors or signs of bone loss, your doctor might recommend a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan.

What Is a DEXA Scan?

A DEXA scan is an imaging test used to measure bone mineral density. In this type of bone density scan, two x-ray beams are aimed at the bones. The amount of radiation absorbed indicates how tightly packed minerals are inside the segment of bone tested.

To get the most accurate results, radiologists focus DEXA scans on parts of the body most vulnerable to breaks from osteoporosis, primarily the hip and spine. If you cannot have a scan directed at the hip or spine — due to a hip replacement, for example — the scan will target the forearm instead.

DEXA scans are recommended for women over age 65, men over age 70 and anyone with risk factors for osteoporosis.

What to Expect During a DEXA Scan

When you first arrive for your DEXA scan, you will need to fill out some paperwork and change into medical scrubs or a hospital gown. Once you’ve changed, you will need to lie down on a padded x-ray table. The expert radiologist who conducts your scan will help position your legs so that the x-ray beams can get an accurate picture. The radiologist will then briefly leave the room to start the machine.

To ensure the pictures are clear, you’ll need to stay still during the DEXA scan. You may also be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds. The scan itself is painless and the entire process usually takes between 10 and 30 minutes.

How to Read a DEXA Scan and What the Results Tell You About Bone Health

By accurately measuring bone density, a DEXA scan can tell you whether you have osteoporosis, whether you are likely to develop osteoporosis and whether you might benefit from medication to slow bone loss.

When the results from your scan come in, your doctor will likely give you two numbers. The first is a T-score. This compares your results to the bone density of a healthy 30-year-old:

  • A T-score greater than -1 is considered normal
  • A T-score between -1 and -2.5 indicates osteopenia
  • A T-score lower than -2.5 indicates osteoporosis

The second number provided with your results is a Z-score, which compares your bone density to the average for someone of your age, weight, sex and ethnicity. A Z-score over 2.0 is considered normal, while a Z-score below -1.5 could indicate something besides age is contributing to bone loss.

Depending on the results of your DEXA scan, you and your doctor may decide you need to take further steps to protect your bone health.

Tips for Protecting Bone HealthDoctor Talking to Patient

Although some people have a higher risk of osteoporosis than others, anyone can protect themselves with these bone health tips:

  • Maintain an exercise routine
  • Eat foods with plenty of calcium
  • Ask a doctor about calcium and vitamin D supplements
  • Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption

If you’re worried about the results of your DEXA scan, ask your doctor what you can do to stay healthy.

Schedule an Appointment With Health Images

At Health Images, we know being referred for a DEXA scan can feel stressful, which is why we work hard to create a pleasant and caring atmosphere. We accept a wide range of insurance options and offer flexible scheduling to meet your needs. If your doctor has recommended a DEXA scan, call your nearest location to speak with our compassionate staff and schedule an appointment today.