A bone density scan is used to measure how much bone tissue you have. This is your bone density or how strong your bones are. You might also hear a bone density scan called a DEXA scan.

What to expect during a DEXA scan

A bone density scan is called Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA). It uses a low dose of X-rays similar to natural background radiation that you would receive on a transatlantic flight.

Before the scan, you are asked to fill in a questionnaire about your lifestyle, medical history and any medication you are taking. This helps to make the results as accurate as they can be, as your future fracture risk is calculated based on the information you supply.

The scan takes 10 to 20 minutes and is carried out by a radiographer, a DEXA technician or a specially trained nurse. There is plenty of time to ask questions you may have.

Attending for the scan in loose fitting clothing, without zips, buttons or fastenings is best. You may also be asked to change in to a gown in the scan room as anything dense or metallic may affect bone density measurements.

You will be asked to lie on your back on a firm couch and guided in to the correct position for the scan. A scanning arm passes over certain areas of your body to take an image (usually one hip and lower back). The arm does not come close to you and you are not in a tunnel.

The scan is painless, it should not feel unpleasant and you will not need an injection for the scan.

Who might have a DEXA scan?

A DEXA scan can is used to measure your bone density (how strong your bones are). If bones are not as strong as they could be they can be more likely to break (fracture).

There are certain factors known to reduce bone density, some of which are lifestyle influences (diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol). Other factors can be medical conditions or medications.

If you are starting a treatment that can affect bone density or have a condition known to affect it, your doctor will ask you to have a baseline scan. This means there is a measurement on record to compare your bone density to in future. It depends what the first scan measurements show if another scan would be required, but another scan would not usually be performed for 2 years or more.

For consistency, if you have had a DEXA scan somewhere else, you should have further scans at the same place. Please tell your doctor if you have had previous DEXA scans.

Results from the scan are available in 2 to 3 weeks and are sent to the person who requested the scan. A second copy is sent to your GP, so if you do not have a hospital appointment at The Christie for quite some time you can discuss the results with your GP.

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