Loss of bone mass is part of the natural aging process, but some people are at risk for developing osteoporosis, a condition characterized by the further weakening of bone structures. Osteoporosis can lead to the development of thin, brittle bones and an increased risk of fracture. Risk factors associated with osteoporosis include:
- Being a post-menopausal woman
- Family history
- Medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism that decrease the body’s ability to absorb sufficient calcium
- Frequent alcohol consumption
- A diet low in calcium, phosphorus or vitamin D
- A lifestyle with little or no weight-bearing exercise
According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, women age 65 and older should receive routine bone density testing. Women who are at high risk for osteoporosis may need to begin screening earlier.
Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) is the most accurate technique for measuring bone mineral density (BMD). Two different X-ray beams are used to analyze the BMD in the spine and hip. The test analyzes the amount of minerals, such as calcium, in the bones to determine their thickness and strength. DXA scans are highly accurate, having the ability to measure as little as 2-percent bone loss per year.
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While other techniques can take up to 45 minutes, a DXA scan typically lasts only 20 minutes. During the scan, patients experience no discomfort. You can expect to lie on your back, on a padded table. For some scans, you may need to lie with your legs straight or rest your lower legs on a cushion or platform.
To prepare for the test, you should avoid wearing clothing with metal buttons or buckles as well as any jewelry that might interfere with the scan. In addition, be sure to inform your technologist if you have previous bone fractures, metal implants from hip replacement surgery or fracture, or if you have had a barium test or taken a contrast agent containing barium within the last ten days. Also, due to the low dose of radiation, please inform your technologist if you could be pregnant.