Bone health: What are DEXA scans and should you get one | Health


DEXA or Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry scans are a type of medical imaging technique used to measure bone density and body composition. They are commonly utilised to diagnose and monitor conditions such as osteoporosis, a disease characterised by low bone mass and increased risk of fractures.

Bone health: What are DEXA scans and should you get this bone density scan (Photo by KirstenMarie on Unsplash)
Bone health: What are DEXA scans and should you get this bone density scan (Photo by KirstenMarie on Unsplash)

What is DEXA scan?

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Akhilesh Yadav, Associate Director-Orthopedics and Joint Replacement, Max Super Speciality Hospital Vaishali, briefed, “Bone density testing, such as a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, can assess bone health and detect osteoporosis or low bone density. Talk to your healthcare provider about the recommended frequency for bone density testing based on your risk factors and medical history. Early detection allows for timely intervention and treatment if necessary.”

Bringing her expertise to the same, Dr Sunita Kapoor, Director and Consultant Pathologist at City X-ray and Scan Clinic, explained, “A bone density scan or DEXA scan uses low-dose X-rays to see how dense or strong your bones are. Other names for this test are bone mineral density test or BMD test, DXA, and Dual-energy x-ray. A woman should undergo this test at least once beginning at age 58 or even earlier, depending upon the risk factors for osteoporosis. The test is also used to determine body fat and lean body mass and often plays an integral role in identifying and preventing osteoporosis.”

She elaborated, “The diagnostic procedure helps diagnose how susceptible are your bones to fractures and injuries, by measuring the body’s fat percentage or your bone’s mineral density. A doctor may recommend the scan or test if you are at a higher risk of developing bone problems, such as osteoporosis. A bone density scan is primarily used to diagnose osteopenia (low bone mass), and osteoporosis, predict the risk of future fractures and see if treatment for osteoporosis is working. Women aged 65 or older are at a high risk of losing bone density, which can lead to fractures, so they should have a bone density scan.”

DEXA scan procedure and benefits:

During a DEXA scan, a low-dose X-ray is passed through the body, typically focusing on the hip and spine regions as the scan measures the amount of X-ray energy that is absorbed by the bones, providing information about bone mineral density (BMD). This data is then compared to the average BMD for a healthy young adult of the same sex to determine if the patient’s bone density is within the normal range or if they have osteoporosis or osteopenia (low bone density but not as severe as osteoporosis).

In addition to assessing bone health, DEXA scans can also measure body composition by differentiating between bone, lean tissue (muscles) and fat. This aspect of the scan provides insights into overall body fat percentage, which can be helpful for monitoring weight management and assessing the risk of conditions associated with excessive body fat.

Dr Ajith KN, Medical Director, Clinical and Imaging Services at Neuberg Diagnostics, highlighted, “Bone mineral density (BMD) screening, such as a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan, can help identify women at high risk for osteoporosis. Women at high risk for osteoporosis include those with a history of thyroid disorders, arthritis, early menopause, high-risk medication use and cancer patients. BMD screening can help identify women who may benefit from early intervention to prevent or treat osteoporosis, such as lifestyle modifications, medication or hormone therapy.”

Should you get a DEXA scan?

Whether or not you should get a DEXA scan depends on several factors including your age, gender, medical history and risk factors for osteoporosis or other bone-related conditions. Here are some situations where a DEXA scan may be recommended –

  • Postmenopausal women: Women who have gone through menopause, especially those with additional risk factors, such as a family history of osteoporosis or personal history of fractures, may be advised to undergo a DEXA scan to evaluate their bone density.
  • Men over 70: Older men are also at risk of developing osteoporosis and a DEXA scan can help determine if they have low bone density.
  • Individuals with risk factors: If you have specific risk factors for osteoporosis, such as a family history of the condition, certain medical conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease), or prolonged use of medications known to affect bone health (e.g. corticosteroids), a DEXA scan may be recommended.
  • Fracture assessment: If you have experienced a fracture after minimal trauma or suspect you may have osteoporosis due to symptoms like back pain or height loss, a DEXA scan can aid in diagnosis and guide further treatment.

It is essential to discuss with your healthcare provider whether a DEXA scan is appropriate for you based on your individual circumstances and medical history. They can evaluate your risk factors, consider alternative diagnostic options if needed and determine the most suitable course of action for your bone health evaluation.


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