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Bone Densitronomy

Bone Density ScanningBone density scanning, also called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone densitometry, is an enhanced form of x-ray technology that is used to measure bone loss. DXA is today's established standard for measuring bone mineral density (BMD).

An x-ray (radiograph) is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. Imaging with x-rays involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging.

DXA is most often performed on the lower spine and hips. In children and some adults, the whole body is sometimes scanned. Peripheral devices that use x-ray or ultrasound are sometimes used to screen for low bone mass. In some communities, a CT scan with special software can also be used to diagnose or monitor low bone mass (QCT). This is accurate but less commonly used than DXA scanning.

Copyright © 2009 Radiological Society of North America, Inc., and American College of Radiology

How do I understand my bone densitometry results?

Bone densitometry is used to show if your bones have lost density or strength. Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose their strength and density; they become fragile and fracture more easily. Moderate bone loss is called osteopenia, severe bone loss is osteoporosis.

What is the difference between osteopenia and osteoporosis?

These words are both related to bone loss. The real difference between the two is related to how much bone is actually lost. Osteopenia is when you have had some bone loss but not as much as with osteoporosis. If you have osteopenia, your risk of breaking a bone is increased, but not as much as with osteoporosis. If you have osteopenia you should be talking to your doctor about what you can do to maintain your bone strength and prevent fractures.

How often should scans be done?

A single scan can predict the chance of a fracture. However, if some patients continue to have risk factors or take medications (steroids), then a second scan may be done 2-3 years later.

Are calcium supplements necessary?

Post-menopausal women should have at least 1300mg of calcium each day (three glasses of milk or equivalent). Women who have difficulty consuming this amount should take a calcium supplement. (please consult your doctor)

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

The most reliable risk factors are being female, a family history of osteoporosis, early menopause, (occurring before the age of 45), a thin, small body, and being Caucasian or Asian. Other equally relevant factors are smoking, a high intake of alcohol and caffeine, taking certain drugs like corticosteroids for long periods, and diseases like an overactive thyroid or anorexia nervosa.

What tests are available to assess the risk of developing osteoporosis?

Bone Density ScanningSeveral tests are available for measuring bone density, the most common and reliable being dual energy x-ray bone densitometry (DEXA). The DEXA method measures bone density at the sites of greatest concern - the hip and the spine - using low dosage radiation.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose their strength and density, and become fragile and fracture (break) more easily because of calcium loss. This disease particularly affects women in their middle and later years. It is quite different from osteoarthritis which affects joint surfaces.

What is osteopenia?

A condition of moderate loss of bone density or strength. A woman with osteopenia has a risk of broken bones that higher than normal, but not as high as with the more severe condition, osteoporosis.

Why only scan the lower back and one hip? Why not both hips, my upper back and/or my neck?

We scan the areas that have been shown to show the most bone loss in patients. The measurements that are taken are then compared to a set standard of numbers and your exam will be classified as Normal, Osteopenia or Osteoporosis.

Can you tell me if I have arthritis? Can you tell me if I have a ruptured disc?

No, we can not tell you if you have arthritis or a ruptured disc. This test is measuring how dense your bones are in order to calculate the amount of bone loss you may have.

Why don’t you scan the area in my body that hurts, i.e., my neck?

Bone Densitometry is used to measure the density of bone in areas that are known to lose bone density first. We usually scan one hip and the lumbar spine (the lower back). We are not able to tell if there is something wrong with your bones or muscles. We are scanning the area to calculate the amount of bone loss.

What does a bone density show?

A bone density is a test used to show if your bones have loss mass or bone density. Moderate bone loss is called osteopenia, severe bone loss is called osteoporosis. These conditions can place you at an increased risk of fractures of your bones. The Bone Density Scan can accurately predict who is at increased risk for fractures and be used to accurately follow those with osteoporosis for worsening or improvement.