The Truth About Bone Density Scans

Get the facts on this important bone health test—and three common myths you should ignore.

By
Health Monitor Staff
Bone Density Scan, DXA

If your doctor has said it’s time for a bone mineral density scan called a DXA—for “dual energy X-ray absorptiometry”—there’s no excuse to stall. The test is easy, quick (15 minutes) and requires no “prep,” says Mark Box, MD, a rheumatologist and certified DXA specialist in Kansas City, MO.

Here’s how easy it is, in three simple steps:

Wear the right stuff. Since metal can interfere with the scan, leave your jewelry at home, and don’t wear clothes with any metal—that means no zippers or metal buttons! If you forget, that’s okay; you’ll be given a gown to wear.

Just relax. During the scan, all you need to do is lie down on a padded cushion and let the technician and machine do the work. Scans will be taken of your lumbar (lower) spine and hip. Sometimes, the wrist and forearm are measured instead (if you’ve had a hip joint replacement or low-back surgery, for example). Then you’re done!

Get your score—and the scoop! Your bone mineral density score reveals your fracture risk. Discuss the results with your doctor and ask how you can prevent bone loss, avoid fractures and preserve your mobility!

Still have questions? Go over any concerns with your doctor. To help you out, we asked Dr. Box to shed light on common myths about this simple, yet important, bone health test, so read on.

3 DXA scan myths you should ignore!

Myth: I’ll get too much radiation exposure.
Fact: There is a very low amount of radiation used during a DXA scan, says Dr. Box. “So little that the technicians do not wear protection—they stay in the room with you—and the room does not require shielding as it does when an X-ray is done.”

Myth: I already had a heel scan, so I don’t need another one.
Fact: “A heel scan may indicate problems like low bone density, but it lacks the ability to assess high-risk areas for fracture like the spine or hip,” says Dr. Box. That’s because the small ultrasound equipment used for heel scans does not produce nearly as accurate a result as the powerful scanners that measure the hip and spine.

Myth: If I do have bone loss, it’s too late now. Why get tested?
Fact: Because there are effective treatments! Medications can help rebuild bone, prevent further bone loss and lower your fracture risk, notes Dr. Box.

Plus, it’s never too late to protect your bones with calcium and vitamin D (ask your doctor about the doses) and weight-bearing exercise. In fact, a Tufts University study showed that women age 50-70 who did strength training just twice a week not only avoided the bone loss (−1.2%) that occurred a year later in the group that didn’t train—it increased their bone density by 2%! Ask your doctor about the best exercises for you.

Published
February 2014