DEXA Scan (Bone Density Testing)

The DEXA scan is most often used to diagnose osteoporosis, a condition that often affects women after menopause, but may also be found in men and rarely in children. Osteoporosis involves a gradual loss of calcium, as well as structural changes, causing the bones to become thinner, more fragile and more likely to break.

DEXA scans also are effective in tracking the effects of treatment for osteoporosis and other conditions that cause bone loss.

The DEXA scan also can assess an individual's risk for developing fractures. The risk of fracture is affected by age, body weight, history of prior fracture, family history of osteoporotic fractures and life style issues such as cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. These factors are taken into consideration when deciding if a patient needs therapy.

Bone density testing is strongly recommended:

  • Post-menopausal woman who are not taking estrogen
  • Someone with a personal or maternal history of hip fracture or smoking
  • Post-menopausal woman who are tall (more than 5 feet 7 inches) or thin (less than 125 pounds)
  • Men with clinical conditions associated with bone loss
  • People who use medications that are known to cause bone loss, including corticosteroids such as Prednisone, various anti-seizure medications such as Dilantin and certain barbiturates, or high-dose thyroid replacement drugs
  • People who have type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile or insulin-dependent), liver disease, kidney disease or a family history of osteoporosis
  • Someone with high bone turnover, which shows up in the form of excessive collagen in urine samples
  • Anyone with a thyroid condition, such as hyperthyroidism
  • Someone who has a parathyroid condition, such as hyperparathyroidism
  • Anyone who has experienced a fracture after only mild trauma
  • Individuals who have X-ray evidence of vertebral fracture or other signs of osteoporosis

Benefits of DEXA Scans

  • DEXA bone densitometry is a simple, quick and non-invasive procedure.
  • No anesthesia is required.
  • The amount of radiation used is extremely small — less than one-tenth the dose of a standard chest X-ray, and less than a day's exposure to natural radiation.
  • DEXA bone density testing is the most accurate method available for the diagnosis of osteoporosis and is also considered an accurate estimator of fracture risk.