A bone density scan, also known as a DEXA scan, is a low-dose x-ray that measures calcium and other minerals in your bones. The measurement shows the strength and thickness of your bones, known as bone density.
Most people’s bones become thinner as they get older. Bones thinning more than normal is called Osteopenia, which puts you at risk for a more serious condition called osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that causes bones to become very thin and brittle. It usually affects older people, most commonly in women over 65. People with osteoporosis are at higher risk for fractures, especially in their hips, spine, and wrists.
How Do I Know If I Need Bone Density Screening?
Women 65 years or older should have a bone density scan. This age group is at high risk of losing bone density, which can lead to fractures. You may be at risk for low bone density if you have:
- Very low body weight
- Had one or more fractures after the age of 50
- Lost a half-inch or more in height within one year
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Are physically inactive
- Smoke cigarettes
- Drink heavily
- Don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet
What Is a Bone Density Scan Like?
During a DEXA scan:
- You will lie on your back on a padded table, and probably be able to leave your clothes on.
- During the scan, you may need to lie with your legs straight, or you may be asked to rest your legs on a padded platform.
- A scanning machine will pass over your lower spine and hip. At the same time, another scanning machine called a photon generator passes beneath you. The images from the two machines will be combined and sent to a computer. A health care provider will view the images on the computer screen.
- While the machines are scanning, you will need to stay very still. You may be asked to hold your breath.
To measure bone density in the forearm, finger, hand, or foot, a provider may use a portable scan called a peripheral DEXA (p-DEXA).
What Do the Results Mean?
Bone density results are often given in the form of a T score. This score is a measurement that compares your bone density measurement with the bone density of a healthy 30-year-old. A low T score means you probably have some bone loss.
If your results show low bone density, your health care provider will recommend steps to prevent further bone loss. These may include:
- Getting more exercise with activities such as walking, dancing, and using weight machines.
- Adding calcium and vitamin D to your diet
- Taking prescription medicines to increase bone density
If you have questions about bone density screening, your risk, or bone loss prevention, we are here to help. Contact us to schedule an appointment or call 479.582.9268.