DEXA scan (bone density scan)

A DEXA scan uses X-ray technology to look for signs of fragile bones (osteoporosis).

What is a DEXA scan?

This type of scan, which is also known as a DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorbtiometry) scan, uses X-ray and a computer to measure bone density.

Your doctor may recommend a bone density scan if you have fractured a bone after only a minor fall or bump, or you are in a high-risk group for osteoporosis.

A low density score can show that your bones are fragile which may be caused by a degenerative bone condition called osteoporosis.

Bone density scans are also used to monitor how well osteoporosis treatment is working.

How is a DEXA scan carried out?

Your scan will be carried out by a radiographer and usually takes 20-30 minutes.

They will explain the procedure and make sure that you’re happy to go ahead with the test. You will be taken to the X-ray room and asked to lie down on the X-ray table.

An X-ray machine will slowly pass over your body, taking images of the bones being tested.

After the test, the results are sent to your doctor or consultant who requested the test.

How to prepare for a DEXA scan

You do not need to prepare for a bone density scan.

You should tell the doctor or radiographer if you:

  • are or think you could be, pregnant – a DEXA scan isn’t recommended for pregnant women, unless there is an urgent medical reason
  • have had a nuclear medicine scan in the past few days
  • have had a barium or Gastrografin swallow, meal or enema in the past few days
  • have had surgery on your hips or spine

If possible you should wear light clothing that doesn’t have metal fasteners over your spine and abdominal (tummy) areas.

Before the scan you will be asked to put on a gown and remove any items of clothing and jewellery that contain metal.

What happens after a DEXA scan?

When you feel ready, you will be able to go home. You can drive if want to.

Your doctor or consultant who requested your test will discuss the results with you at your next appointment.

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