Bone Density Scan

What is a Bone Density Scan?

A bone density scan, also known as a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, is a type of x-ray test that measures the mineral content of bones. The test is used to help diagnose and treat thinning bones, which can increase the risk of fractures. Bone density scans are most often used to diagnose osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become weak and brittle and are more likely to break.

Why Have a Bone Density Scan?

Bone density testing is used to help diagnose or monitor osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become weak and are more prone to fracture. Bone density testing can also be used to evaluate people who are at risk for developing osteoporosis, such as those who are aging, postmenopausal, or have a family history of the disease. The test can help determine how likely a person is to suffer from fractures due to weak bones.

When Should I Have a Bone Density Test?

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that all women 65 or older get a bone density test, as well as younger women who have risk factors for osteoporosis. Men and women at higher risk should talk to their doctor about when to start getting bones density tests.

How is a Bone Density Scan Done?

During the scan, the patient will lie down on a table and an x-ray detector will be placed over the area being tested. The test takes about 10-15 minutes and is usually painless.

Preparation For a Bone Density Scan

Before the scan, the patient will need to remove any jewelry and clothing that may interfere with the scan. The patient should also inform the doctor of any medications they are taking that could interfere with the scan, such as diuretics or drugs containing metal.

Types of Bone Density Tests

Bone density tests can be conducted using either a central DXA scan or an ultrasound scan. A central DXA scan uses a low dose of x-rays to measure the amount and distribution of bone in the spine and hip. An ultrasound scan measures the density of the bones in the heel.

Risks of a Bone Density Scan

Bone density scans are generally considered safe and have no known side effects. The amount of radiation a patient is exposed to during the scan is low and no preparation, such as fasting, is necessary.