If you have symptoms of osteoporosis (“brittle bones”), your doctor may want you to have a DEXA scan. “DEXA” stands for dual energy X-ray absorptiometry.
Symptoms of osteoporosis include painful broken or cracked bones. They can happen in different areas of the body, including the spine and back. People who have a high chance of getting osteoporosis will likely get a DEXA scan.
You have a higher chance of getting osteoporosis if you:
- Have a family member with osteoporosis
- Are very thin
- Are older
- Use certain medicines
By age 65, every woman should be screened for osteoporosis.
Frequently asked questions
DEXA scans are similar to X-rays, but use much less radiation.
During the exam, you lie down on a soft surface. A device will swing over parts of your body. It will make multiple scans to measure calcium and other minerals in your bones. It will focus on the parts of the body that are more likely to break, like the spine and hips.
You should not have a DEXA scan if:
- You’re pregnant.
- You’ve had an X-ray with contrast in the last seven days. (The X-ray could change the results of the scan.)
To prepare for the DEXA exam, please:
- Stop taking calcium supplements 24 hours before your scan. They can change the results. You don’t have to change how you eat. That won’t affect the test results.
- Remove jewelry, including earrings and any other metal on your body. Metal can block the imaging and affect the results.
- Wear clothing that’s loose, comfortable and doesn’t have zippers, metal buttons or belts.
The test results have both a T and Z score:
- The T score compares you to a normal person in her 30s, when bone density peaks. A T score above 1 is normal. Below 1 means you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, the next step to osteoporosis.
- The Z score compares you to other people your age, sex and weight. It can help your doctor determine if something other than age is causing your bones to thin.
The DEXA scan is usually covered by Medicare and most insurances.