What Does a Bone Density Scan Show?
Bone density refers to the amount of calcium and other minerals in a bone. A bone density scan -- the more technical term is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) -- measures the calcium and minerals in specific bones, such as the hip, spine, and wrist. This helps determine the density of your bones, how fragile they are, and how likely they are to break. Based on the results, your doctor can:
- Track changes in bone density over time
- Assess your risk for developing bone fractures
- Monitor your response to treatments for osteoporosis
Who Should Get a Bone Density Scan?
Bones often become less dense with age, especially in women. A bone density scan is recommended for women who are age 65 and older and other people at risk for osteoporosis. If the scan shows that your bones are healthy, the results can be used as a baseline measurement for future testing. A bone density scan may also be recommended for:
- Men younger than 70 and women under age 65 with a family history or other risk factors for low bone mass, including chemotherapy treatments, low body weight, previous fractures, and health conditions associated with bone loss
- People taking steroids, immunosuppressants, or other medications that can interfere with bone rebuilding or cause bone loss
- Women who have undergone certain breast cancer treatments such as anti-estrogen therapy
Preparing for Your Bone Density Scan
Getting Ready for Your Bone Density Scan
You will be asked to stop taking calcium supplements for three days before the scan. There are no additional preparations required unless your provider tells you otherwise. You can wear loose, comfortable clothing, or you may be asked to change into a gown. You may also be asked to remove belts, jewelry, or any other metal objects that may interfere with the images.
During Your Bone Density Scan
You will lie on your back on a padded table. Your technologist will help you get situated and may use a foam block to get you into the proper position. A scanning arm will pass over your body to take images. You need to stay still while images are taken, but you will not feel anything. You may be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds. Your entire scan should only take a few minutes.
Bone Density Scan Safety and Comfort
Bone density scans use low-dose X-rays to capture images of your bones. The test is non-invasive, quick, and painless.
Getting Your Results
Your bone density scan report and images will be available through Duke MyChart for you to discuss with your doctor.
Since you will be able to access your results as soon as they are available, you may see them in MyChart before your doctor has had a chance to review them and explain them to you. If you prefer not to see your results before your doctor, let them know. They can request a delay in sending your information to MyChart until you have the chance to talk with them.
Follow-Up Bone Density Tests
After your first scan, your doctor may recommend that you have additional bone density scans every one to four years, depending on your health condition. It is best if follow-up bone density scans are performed at the same location on the same machine to ensure the most accurate results.