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DXA Bone Scan – Your Bone Density Testing FAQ

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

What is bone density testing?

Bone density testing is a safe, painless and noninvasive process during which medical professionals check the strength of your hip and spine. One way bone density testing is done is with dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, also known as “DXA” or “DEXA.” This test may be used to confirm a diagnosis of osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weakening of the bones, which occurs in 16% of women over the age of 50.

Who should have bone density testing?

The U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommends bone density testing for:

  • Women over the age of 65 (no risk factors)
  • Men over the age of 70 (no risk factors)
  • Women over the age of 60 who are at elevated risk for bone fracture

Risk factors for osteoporosis, as provided by the American Academy of Family Physicians, include:

  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Being white
  • Having had fractures
  • Dementia
  • Poor nutrition
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Low weight and body mass index (BMI)
  • Estrogen deficiency
  • Early menopause (i.e. before age 45) or prolonged premenopausal amenorrhea
  • Long-term low calorie intake
  • History of falls
  • Inadequate physical activity

What is it like to have a DXA scan?

A DXA scan takes just 10 to 20 minutes to complete. It uses an extremely low dose of radiation – less than the amount of radiation you are naturally exposed to on a normal day. The scan is done on an open table.

During the scan, two x-ray beams are emitted from the machine: a high-energy beam and a low-energy beam. The machine measures how much energy passes through the bones. The difference between these two numbers provides your physician with information about your bone density.

What do my bone density testing results mean?

DXA scan results are provided in the form of a “T-score.” The T-score compares your bone density with the bone density of a healthy 30-year-old adult.

  • T-Score of -1.0 or above… normal bone density
  • T-Score between -1.0 and -2.5… low bone density
  • T-Score of -2.5 or lower… osteoporosis

Schedule With a Houston Orthopedic Doctor

Wondering what else you can do for better bone health? Don’t miss this post, which has four more suggestions (in addition to bone density testing, as discussed here). Also, consider scheduling an appointment with your primary care provider or a Houston orthopedic physician. Call (713) 756-5546, or schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.