DEXA Bone Densitometry: How It Can Help You

a woman speaking with her radiologist about her DEXA scan results

It’s no secret that bone health is a major problem for many Americans, especially as we age. Osteoporosis, if left unchecked, can contribute to a myriad of other health issues and complications. Fortunately, DEXA scans are making headway in helping people with their bone issues. In our latest Professional Radiology blog, we discuss the ways in which DEXA scans can help you maintain and improve your own bone health! 

Wait, What Is A DEXA Scan? 

A dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan (also known as DEXA or DXA scan) is an advanced, low-dosage form of x-ray that takes a close look at bone density and structure. The DEXA scan was invented in 1987, during a bonafide resurgence in medical technology and practice. Prior to this technology, physicians who wanted to investigate bone structure more closely needed to make use of long-high exposure x-rays. This, of course, was not ideal for those who needed detailed results. 

While regular X-rays illuminate some issues with bone health (like fractures), DEXA scans are used for a more in-depth look into bone health. The dual-energy levels are able to separate the results into two distinct components, which include the soft tissue and bone. Due to the more detailed results provided by a DEXA scan, physicians are able to detect minute changes in bone loss. Regular X-rays, although useful for a plethora of other reasons, tend to not provide accurate results.

The Purposes of DEXA Scans

Although X-rays are the gold standard when it comes to looking within the body to assess health conditions, the results may not be as detailed or accurate as the diagnosis requires. This is where DEXA scans come into play. Doctors generally use DEXA scans to diagnose osteoporosis or to assess a patient’s bone density. Through a scan, your physician can quite literally see the state of your bones. This allows them to determine whether you’re at risk of fracture. 

Once you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis and you begin receiving treatment for the condition, your physician may order subsequent DEXA scans every few years to check the status of your bone density. The accuracy of the scan gives doctors the ability to see even the smallest changes in bone density. These subsequent scans provide the necessary information, be it positive or negative. If the bone density has gotten worse, your physician will more than likely recommend a different treatment plan. Although osteoporosis can’t be cured, there are many treatment options available. 

Detecting Osteoporosis Early

Due to the prevalence of osteoporosis and bone density loss in elderly individuals (there are more than 3 million cases of osteoporosis in the United States per year), DEXA scans are recommended for women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70. This is according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, which also list other determining factors, such as bone breakage after age 50, women of menopausal age with risk factors, or men aged 50-59 with risk factors. 

When it comes to osteoporosis, there are a handful of risk factors that are unchangeable. These include one’s sex, age, race, and family history. In fact, women are much more likely to develop the disease than men, although men can still be diagnosed. This is due to the fact that women’s bones tend to be smaller and thinner than men’s. Estrogen also decreases sharply when women reach menopause. The lack of this hormone can lead to bone density loss. Thyroid problems can also contribute to osteoporosis and bone loss.

What to Expect from Your DEXA Scan

Now that we’ve briefly outlined the importance and purpose of the DEXA scan, it’s time to delve into the actual procedure. There is generally no need to prepare prior to your scan, so you can eat and drink as you normally would. If you take calcium supplements, then you’ll more than likely be asked to not take them 24 hours before your scan takes place. 

DEXA scans are performed on an outpatient basis. This means you’ll be able to go about your day as soon as the scan is complete! You will be required to change into a hospital gown and all metal objects must be removed, as well. That includes watches, jewelry, and glasses. You will then be asked to lie on your back on the exam table, where the X-ray technician will place the imaging device above you and the X-ray generator below. Now, it’s imperative for you to sit completely still during the scan. The DEXA scan is, in simple terms, taking a picture of your bones. The slightest movement can result in a blurry image. In general, DEXA scans are quick, taking at most 30 minutes to be completed. They are also painless, so you won’t have to worry. 

Understanding the Results from Your Scan

Now come the results. DEXA scans use a result system known as the T-score, which is determined by comparing your bone density results to that of a young adult of the same sex. T-scores are defined on a spectrum of -1.0 to -2.5, with -1.0 or higher defining “normal bone density,” -1.1 to -2.4 indicating low bone density, and -2.5 or lower indicating osteoporosis. Of course, your physician will go over the results in simple terms once the scan is complete. From there, your physician may place you on a treatment plan, depending on the severity of the bone loss. 

Choose Professional Radiology for Your DEXA Scan, Today!

Professional Radiology is proud to be a physician-owned medical diagnostic imaging center. This means we are not beholden to any corporate interest. Professional Radiology was established and is run by world-class radiologist Dr. Jorge L. Sarmiento. We emphasize treating our patients with respect while getting the imaging done right. So, give us a call today to learn more about our services and to schedule your DEXA scan!

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