Follow these instructions to ensure a smooth appointment.

Prepare for Your Appointment

Bone density tests are a quick and painless procedure.

Routine evaluations every two years may be needed to see a significant change in bone mineral density, decrease or increase. Few patients, such as patients on high dose steroid medication, may need follow-up at six months.

On the day of the exam you may eat normally. You should not take calcium supplements for at least 24 hours before your exam.

You should wear loose, comfortable clothing, avoiding garments that have zippers, belts or buttons made of metal. Objects such as keys or wallets that would be in the area being scanned should be removed.

You may be asked to remove some or all of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam. You may also be asked to remove jewelry, removable dental appliances, eye glasses and any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.

Inform your physician if you recently had a barium examination or have been injected with a contrast material for a computed tomography (CT) scan or radioisotope scan. You may have to wait 10 to 14 days before undergoing a DXA test.

Women should always inform their physician and x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. Many imaging tests are not performed during pregnancy so as not to expose the fetus to radiation. If an x-ray is necessary, precautions will be taken to minimize radiation exposure to the baby.

What to Expect

In the Central DXA examination, which measures bone density in the hip and spine, the patient lies on a padded table. An x-ray generator is located below the patient and an imaging device, or detector, is positioned above.

To assess the spine, the patient’s legs are supported on a padded box to flatten the pelvis and lower (lumbar) spine. To assess the hip, the patient’s foot is placed in a brace that rotates the hip inward. In both cases, the detector is slowly passed over the area, generating images on a computer monitor.

You must hold very still and may be asked to keep from breathing for a few seconds while the x-ray picture is taken to reduce the possibility of a blurred image. The technologist will walk behind a wall or into the next room to activate the x-ray machine.

The peripheral tests are simpler. The finger, hand, forearm or foot is placed in a small device that obtains a bone density reading within a few minutes.

The DXA bone density test is usually completed within 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the equipment used and the parts of the body being examined.

How this service works:

The DXA machine sends a thin, invisible beam of low-dose x-rays with two distinct energy peaks through the bones being examined. One peak is absorbed mainly by soft tissue and the other by bone. The soft tissue amount can be subtracted from the total and what remains is a patient’s bone mineral density.

DXA machines feature special software that compute and display the bone density measurements on a computer monitor. 

Common Applications

DXA is most often used to diagnose osteoporosis (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=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.

DXA is also effective in tracking the effects of treatment for osteoporosis and other conditions that cause bone loss.

The DXA test can also 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 if you:

  • are a post-menopausal woman and not taking estrogen.
  • have a personal or maternal history of hip fracture or smoking.
  • are a post-menopausal woman who is tall (over 5 feet 7 inches) or thin (less than 125 pounds).
  • are a man with clinical conditions associated with bone loss.
  • 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.
  • have type 1 (formerly called juvenile or insulin-dependent) diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease or a family history of osteoporosis.
  • have high bone turnover, which shows up in the form of excessive collagen in urine samples.
  • have a thyroid condition, such as hyperthyroidism.
  • have a parathyroid condition, such as hyperparathyroidism.
  • have experienced a fracture after only mild trauma.
  • have had x-ray evidence of vertebral fracture or other signs of osteoporosis.

The Lateral Vertebral Assessment (LVA), a low-dose x-ray examination of the spine to screen for vertebral fractures that is performed on the DXA machine, may be recommended for older patients, especially if:

  • they have lost more than an inch of height.
  • have unexplained back pain.
  • if a DXA scan gives borderline readings

For additional details concerning the above procedures, please visit www.radiologyinfo.org