DEXA (Bone Density Scan)


Vancouver Radiologists, P.C., offers a complete range of diagnostic services for our patients; and providing patients with access to the most advanced technology for accurate diagnosis is a priority of our practice. Our DEXA bone mineral density scan will assess your fracture risk and/or diagnose osteoporosis. With our state of the art system, you’ll also have the confidence of trained personnel. All our technologists are certified by the American Registered Radiological Technologists (ARRT).

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis involves a gradual loss of calcium, which weakens bones, leading to bone fragility and an increased chance of fractures. This weakening may be due to aging or caused by other risk factors that combine with age. Often called the “silent disease,” osteoporosis rarely shows symptoms until a lot of bone mass has been lost and/or fractures occur following minimal trauma. The most visible symptoms may include loss of height along with curvature of the upper back.

While the disease affects both men and women, 80% of those affected are women. In fact, 22 million American women are affected by osteoporosis. Women have a higher risk for osteoporosis than men because women often have smaller, thinner frames. In addition, menopause causes women to produce less estrogen, a hormone that helps protect them against bone loss; 20% of bone mass can be lost in the first 5-7 years following menopause.

Early detection of osteoporosis is crucial to prevention and medical management.  All post-menopausal women and men age 50 and older should be evaluated for osteoporosis risk in order to determine if the need for bone density testing is necessary. The risk of fracture is also affected by body weight, history of prior fracture, family history of osteoporotic fractures and life style issues such as cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Other osteoporosis risk factors include, but are not limited to:

  • post-menopausal woman, not taking estrogen
  • post-menopausal woman who is tall (over 5 feet 7 inches) or thin (less than 125 pounds)
  • a man with clinical conditions associated with bone loss
  • have a personal or maternal history of hip fracture or smoking
  • use medications that are known to cause bone loss
  • 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

If you want to know if you’re at risk of osteoporosis, talk to your healthcare provider about having a DEXA (Bone Density Test) at Vancouver Radiologists!  DEXA scans require an order from your physician. A co-pay and/or deductible may apply. Please check with your health insurance provider regarding your specific plan benefits.

For your convenience, DEXA appointments can be scheduled along with your mammogram.

What is DEXA?

Bone density scanning, also called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) or bone densitometry, is an enhanced form of x-ray technology that is used to measure bone loss. DEXA is today’s established standard for measuring bone mineral density (BMD). The most accurate method to measure (BMD) is to take a measurement of the lower spine and hips, and/or wrist.

DEXA bone densitometry is a quick, simple, painless, and non-invasive procedure. The DEXA unit sends a beam of low-dose x-rays through the bones being examined. DEXA units feature special software that compute and display the bone density measurements on a computer monitor.

Bone density testing is strongly recommended:

  • in women age 65 and older and men age 70 and older
  • in postmenopausal women and men age 50-69, based on *osteoporosis risk factor profile
  • for those who have had a fracture, to determine degree of disease severity

How should I prepare for a DEXA?

On the day of the exam,

  • Tell a member of the healthcare team if you are pregnant, or think you may be.
  • You may eat normally, but must refrain from taking calcium supplements for at least 24 hours prior to the exam.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing and avoid garments with zippers, belts or buttons made of metal.
  • You may be asked to remove some or all of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam.
  • You may be asked to remove jewelry or any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the images.
  • Tell a member of our healthcare team if you’ve recently had a barium examination or have been injected with IV contrast material for a CT or nuclear radioisotope scan. You may have to wait 10 to 14 days before undergoing a DEXA test.

During a DEXA

A technologist will review your clinical history prior to examination. The test takes between 10 and 30 minutes. You will be asked to lie down on a padded examination table. An x-ray generator is located below the patient and an imaging device, or detector, is positioned above. It is important that you remain as still as possible during the procedure to ensure a clear and useful image.

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.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your exam, please ask your technologist. The technologist will ensure that the images taken are complete and accurate, before you leave the clinic; however please note, that they do not interpret the images.

After a DEXA

Our radiologist will review and interpret your images and send your results to your healthcare provider to discuss with you. If you have not been contacted with results within 48 hours, please contact your healthcare provider.

Repeat evaluations may be needed to see a significant change in bone mineral density, decrease or increase. *Small changes may normally be observed between scans due to differences in positioning and usually are not significant.