Bone Density Scans Explained: Duration, Radiation Exposure, & More

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Many years ago, the only way for a doctor to know if someone had osteoporosis was if they had broken a bone and fit the criteria for the disease demographics such as age or sex. Today, modern radiologic technology has made it possible to determine whether someone has osteoporosis before they even fracture or break a bone. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or DXA scan—also known as bone density scans or bone densitometry—can test whether someone has osteoporosis using X-ray imaging. Below, we will discuss the ins and outs of bone densitometry including how it works, who it’s for, and why we use it.

What is a bone density scan?

A bone density test uses X-rays to measure how much calcium and other minerals are found in a section of your bones. With a DXA scan, radiologists will usually image the spine, hip and sometimes the forearm, which are all bones prone to osteoporosis fractures in older adults.

Why are bone density scans done?

Primarily, DXA bone density scanning is used to detect reductions in bone density before a patient breaks or fractures a bone. Bone density scans can also determine someone’s risk of fractures or manage and monitor a patient’s treatment plan for osteoporosis.

Who needs a bone density scan?

Osteoporosis is most common in women over a certain age, but older men also can also have the condition. Your doctor or radiologist may recommend a bone density test if:

  • You’ve shrunk or lost height. Osteoporosis is one of the main causes of height loss.

  • You’ve fractured a bone. Osteoporosis fractures can happen when a bone becomes so fragile that it breaks with something as small as a cough.

  • You’re taking certain medications. Long-term use of some medications can lead to osteoporosis, so be sure to tell your doctor all the medications you are on.

How long does a bone densitometry take?

Bone density tests are relatively short, and the entire test usually takes about 10 to 30 minutes. Bone density tests are primarily performed on bones that are more likely to fracture due to osteoporosis, including:

·       Lower spinal bones

·       Hip and femur bones

·       Forearm bones

Does a bone density scan expose you to radiation?

Yes, as with any X-ray procedure, there is a small amount of exposure to radiation. DXA radiation exposure is considered very low—less than the amount emitted during a regular chest X-ray.

Don’t wait until you’ve broken or fractured a bone to get a DXA scan! If you need a bone density scan in San Francisco, call the board-certified radiology specialists at BICRAD today.