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Bone Density Tests: When You May Need One and What to Expect During the Procedure

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Bone Density Tests: When You May Need One and What to Expect During the Procedure




A bone-density test is a way to measure the strength of your bones. The test, called a DEXA scan, is a kind of X-ray. Once you are of a certain age, a bone density test is performed every 2 years. The main reason to have the test is to find and treat serious bone loss, called osteoporosis, and prevent fractures and disability. 1 in 2 women in the US over the age of 50 will have a fracture related to osteoporosis in their remaining lifetime. This disease also poses a significant threat to millions of men in the United States as well.

Who should get a bone-density scan?

For women over 65 and men over 70, DEXA scans are only appropriate for those with moderate risk of fracture or when the results will change the patients care plan. Younger women and men ages 50 to 69 should consider the test if they have risk factors for serious bone loss. Risk factors include:

  • Breaking a bone in a minor accident.

  • Having rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Having a parent who broke a hip.

  • Smoking.

  • Drinking heavily.

  • Having a low body weight.

  • Using corticosteroid drugs for three months or more.

  • Having a disorders associated with osteoporosis.

You may need a follow-up bone-density test after several years, depending on the results of your first test.

How should I prepare for this procedure?

  • Refrain from taking calcium supplements for at least 24 hours beforehand.

  • Wear comfortable clothing and avoid garments that have zippers, belts or buttons made of metal.

  • Let your technologist know if you’ve recently had a barium examination or have been injected with a contrast material for a CT or radioisotope scan.

  • Let your technologist know if there is a possibility you are pregnant.

What can I expect during this exam?

Depending on the equipment used and the parts of the body being examined, the test takes between 10 and 30 minutes.

  • You may be asked to undress and put on a gown.

  • You’ll lie on a padded table with an x-ray generator below and a detector (an imaging device) above. It is important that you remain as still as possible during the procedure to ensure a clear and useful image.

  • When evaluating bone loss in the spine and hip where most osteoporosis-related fractures happen:

  • Spine: During an examination of the spine, your legs will be supported on a padded box to flatten your pelvis and lower (lumbar) spine.

  • Hip: The technologist will place your foot in a brace that rotates the hip inward.


  • The detector is scanned over the area, generating images on a computer monitor.

What will I experience during this exam?

DEXA bone densitometry is a simple, painless, and non-invasive procedure. Once on the examination table, you may be asked to remain still and to hold an awkward position for a short period of time while the machine takes measurements.

Who interprets the results and how do I get them?

The results of a DEXA bone density exam are interpreted by a radiologist and forwarded to your doctor. Your test results will be in the form of two scores:

T score – This number shows the amount of bone you have compared to a young adult of the same gender with peak bone mass. A score above -1 is considered normal. A score between -1 and -2.5 is classified as osteopenia, the first stage of bone loss. A score below -2.5 is defined as osteoporosis. It is used to estimate your risk of developing a fracture.

Z score – This number reflects the amount of bone you have compared to other people in your age group and of the same size and gender. If it is unusually high or low, it may indicate a need for further medical tests.

If you do have bone loss, you may be offered drug treatments.

There are a plethora of options that help with bone loss and these options for bone loss can be received right here in our hospital through our MCB Infusion Clinic. One common drug on the market for bone loss includes Prolia. Prolia is an injection that works with your body to help stop the development of bone-removing cells. Unlike other comparable drugs for treating osteoporosis, Prolia can be used safely long-term, making it a highly effective treatments for bone loss. The only way to truly discover if you have bone loss that requires treatment is through the DEXA Scan.

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