To accurately detect osteoporosis, doctors commonly use DEXA or bone densitometry scan to measure bone mineral density (BMD). DEXA is a quick, painless procedure for measuring bone loss. Measurement of the lower spine and hips are most often done.

What are some common uses of this procedure?

DEXA bone densitometry is commonly used to diagnose osteoporosis, a condition that often affects women after menopause, but may also be found in men. Osteoporosis involves a gradual loss of calcium, causing bones to thin, become more fragile and more likely to break.

The DEXA scan can also assess your risk for developing fractures and is effective in tracking the effects of treatment for osteoporosis and other conditions that can cause bone loss. Bone density testing is recommended for:

  • post-menopausal women age 60 or older who have risk factors for developing osteoporosis
  • patients with a personal or maternal history of hip fracture or smoking
  • post-menopausal women who are tall (over 5 feet 7 inches) or thin (less than 125 pounds)
  • men and women who have hyperparathyroidism
  • men and women who have taken medications that are know to cause bone loss for an extended period of time

How should I prepare for this procedure?

Refrain from taking calcium supplements for at least 24 hours beforehand. Wear comfortable clothing and avoid garments that have zippers, belts or buttons made of metal. Let your technologist know if you’ve recently had a barium examination or have been injected with a contrast material for another exam. Let your technologist know if there is a possibility you are pregnant.

What can I expect during this exam?

Depending on the equipment used and the parts of the body being examined, the test takes between 10 and 30 minutes. You may be asked to undress and put on a gown. You’ll lie on a padded table with an x-ray generator below and a detector (an imaging device) above. It is important that you remain as still as possible during the procedure to ensure a clear and useful image. During an examination of the spine, your legs will be supported on a padded box to flatten your pelvis and lower (lumbar) spine. During an examination of the hips, the technologist will place your foot in a brace that rotates the hip inward. The detector is scanned over the area, generating images on a computer monitor.

DEXA bone densitometry is a simple, painless and non-invasive procedure. Once on the examination table, you may be asked to remain still and to hold an awkward position for a short period of time while the machine takes measurements.