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Bone Density (DEXA) Scan

A non-invasive test to measure bone density or strength

What is a bone density, or DEXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry), scan?

A bone density scan, also known as a DEXA scan, is a non-invasive imaging test that measures the density or strength of your bones.

What is a DEXA scan used to diagnose?

A DEXA scan is primarily used to diagnose osteoporosis, a condition characterized by low bone mass and increased risk of fractures.

What can I expect during a DEXA scan, and is it painful?

Generally, a DEXA scan is quick and painless. You’ll lie on a table and a technologist will ensure you are properly positioned. This may involve placing supports or pillows to keep you in the correct posture. A machine will then scan your body and calculate your bone mineral density (BMD), which indicates the strength of your bones and your risk of fractures.

How do I prepare for a DEXA scan?

Here’s how you can get ready for your DEXA scan:

  • Avoid calcium: On the morning of your scan, don't take any calcium supplements like vitamins or medicines like Fosamax or Tums/Rolaids.
  • Clothing: Wear loose-fitting clothes, like sweatpants, to make the scan quicker and easier. If your clothes have zippers, snaps or belts, you'll get a gown and pajama bottoms to wear during the scan.
  • Food: You don't need to change your diet before the scan.
  • Other X-rays or CT scan: If you've had certain types of X-rays (like a barium enema) or CT scans with contrast media in the past seven days, the DEXA scan will have to be postponed.
  • Metal implants and surgical clips: Tell the staff if you have any metal implants or surgical clips from back or hip surgery. They might do the scan on your forearm instead.

What are the potential risks or side effects of a DEXA scan?

DEXA scans are considered safe and generally pose no risks or side effects.

Referral required for this service. If you need one, talk to your primary care provider.

To establish care with a St. Luke’s primary care provider, call 218.249.4000 or find a clinic near you.

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