Bone Density Scan
A bone density study (also called a bone mineral density, bone densitometry study or a DEXA scan) measures the calcium content (or density) of your bones to assess your risk for osteoporosis (or loss of bone mass). In effect, this test measures the strength of your bones by testing their hardness. By having this test done, you will help your physician assess your condition and, if needed, recommend ways to prevent further bone loss.
How does it work?
A bone density scan is painless and safe. The radiation exposure is minimal, and there are no aftereffects. A bone densitometry or DEXA machine emits a narrow beam of radiation to measure the density of your bones. Scans of your lower back, hip or forearm are typically taken.
Preparing for your bone density study
Do not take calcium supplements for 24 hours prior to your bone density study.
Dress comfortably, but make sure your clothes do not have any zippers, metal buttons or buckles. You will be asked to remove your watch and any other metal items. Be sure to let your technologist know if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Also let us know if:
- You have any metal in your body, such as spinal fusion rods or a hip replacement.
- You have had a recent nuclear medicine scan or a barium enema.
- You have a severely curved spine, you’ve had spinal surgery or you have difficulty lying on your back.
If you have test results from any prior bone density scans, please bring them to your appointment.
Typically, the exam itself only takes about 15 to 30 minutes. You will be asked to lie on or sit down on a comfortable, padded table. For part of the test, your lower legs may be raised on a platform to ensure that the images taken will be clear. During the procedure, a scanner arm above you will move back and forth over the part of your body being examined. The machine will not touch your body. You will need to be completely still throughout the procedure. Your certified and licensed radiologic technologist will be nearby throughout the exam. Please let your tech know if you have any questions or discomfort.
The images produced by your bone density scan will be reviewed by a physician specializing in nuclear medicine. A report will be sent to your doctor, usually within 24 hours, who will then explain the results of your test and what they mean relative to your particular health issues and treatment.