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Bone density scan (DEXA)

A quick and painless scan to check for osteoporosis

A bone density scan, also known as a bone densitometry or DEXA scan, is a test to measure the density (strength) of your bones. It works by measuring the mineral content of certain parts of your skeleton. DEXA stands for dual energy X-ray absorptiometry.

Bone loss is common as we age and may lead to a condition called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis makes your bones more fragile than usual and increases your risk of fracture. It is more common in women but may also affect men. Osteoporosis doesn't have any symptoms and the first sign that you have the condition is usually when you break a bone.

Call or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss a private bone density scan with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.

This page explains what a bone density scan is, why you may need one and what to expect during your scan.

Your consultant may recommend a bone density scan if they feel you are at risk of osteoporosis.

A bone density scan can be used to:

  • Diagnose osteoporosis
  • Diagnose a condition called osteopenia (low bone density that can lead to osteoporosis)
  • Evaluate your risk of future fractures
  • Check if your osteoporosis treatment is working

You may be at increased risk of osteoporosis if you:

  • Are female and over the age of sixty-five
  • Are male and over the age of seventy
  • Have a very low body weight
  • Have been through early menopause (under the age of forty-five)
  • Have fractured a bone due to a minor injury, bump or fall
  • Have had one or more fractures over the age of fifty
  • Have lost height - compression fractures in the spine are a common sign of osteoporosis
  • Have had both ovaries removed and are under the age of forty-five
  • Have a family history of osteoporosis
  • Take long-term steroids
  • Have low levels of some hormones due to menopause or cancer treatment in women, and treatment for prostate cancer in men
  • Have a digestive disorder that affects how well you absorb nutrients

Other risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Not taking regular exercise
  • Not having enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet

Your bone density scan will be carried out by a radiographer, a specialist in taking X-ray images.

When you arrive for your appointment, your radiographer will check your height and weight. These measurements are important to calculate your bone density accurately.

Your radiographer may ask you some questions including:

  • Is there a chance you may be pregnant?
  • Do you still have periods?
  • Do you drink alcohol?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you take regular medication such as steroids or medication to strengthen your bones?

You may be able to wear your own clothes for your scan, or you may be asked to change into a hospital gown.

It is very important to us that you are as well-informed and comfortable as possible before, during, and after your bone density scan. Please ask your radiographer to explain anything you are not sure about and ask any questions you may have.

For your bone density scan, you will lie down on a scanning table.

You will be asked to keep as still as possible while the scanning arm moves over the part of your body being scanned. This is usually your hips and lower spine.

At the same time, another scanner will pass beneath you. The images from the two scanners are combined and sent to a computer where your radiographer can view them.

A bone density scan usually takes around twenty minutes. The procedure is painless, and you will be able to go home as soon as it's done.

A bone density scan is a simple, quick, and non-invasive procedure that requires little to no preparation.

  • Your consultant may tell you to stop taking calcium supplements twenty-four to forty-eight hours before your scan
  • You should remove all metal such as jewellery, buttons, belt buckles or underwired bras before your scan
  • Tell your consultant or radiographer if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant before your scan

Some of the benefits of bone density scans include:

  • The procedure is quick, simple, and painless
  • Bone density scans are the most reliable method of diagnosing osteoporosis and determining your risk of fractures
  • Bone density scans allow your consultant to prescribe osteoporosis treatment if necessary and monitor its effectiveness

Having a bone density scan is a very safe and low-risk procedure. Like X-rays, bone density scanners emit very small amounts of radiation. Excessive exposure to radiation very slightly increases your risk of cancer. The amount of radiation you are exposed to during a bone density scan is much less than with a normal X-ray, and the benefits of having a bone density scan far outweigh the risks.

If you are pregnant, you should not have a bone density scan as even small amounts of radiation can potentially harm your baby.

To calculate your bone density score, your results are compared to a healthy adult aged 25 to 30 of the same sex and ethnicity or a healthy adult of your own age, sex, and ethnicity.

The difference is calculated as a standard deviation (SD) score:

  • A score of between 0 and -1 is normal bone density
  • A score between -1 and -2.5 means you have lower than normal bone density (osteopenia) and are more likely to develop osteoporosis in the future
  • A score below -2.5 means you have osteoporosis

If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, your consultant will probably prescribe treatment to increase your bone density and reduce your risk of fractures in the future.

Improving your bone density

In addition to medication, there are a few lifestyle changes you can make to improve your bone density including:

  • Eating plenty of calcium-rich food like milk, cheese, yoghurt, green leafy vegetables, and fish where you eat the bones such as sardines and pilchards
  • Making sure you get enough vitamin D which is needed to absorb calcium
  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Regular high-impact exercise like running, jogging, aerobics and weightlifting as well as low-impact exercise like swimming, walking or golf
  • Reducing your caffeine intake

We answer some of your most commonly asked questions about bone density scans

How accurate are bone density scans?

Bone density scans are highly accurate and currently the most effective way to measure bone density.

How long does a bone density scan take?

A bone density scan normally takes between ten and twenty minutes.

Can a bone density scan show cancer?

A bone density scan measures the density (strength) of your bones. If cancer is suspected, you may have a different type of scan called a bone scan. A bone scan looks for abnormalities in the bones such as cancer, or infection. It can also be used to check for fractures or arthritis.

Does a bone density scan show arthritis?

A bone density scan won't show arthritis as its purpose is to measure the mineral density of your bones. In some cases, your consultant may order a bone density scan if you have inflammatory arthritis as this may be a cause of low bone density.

How often should I have a bone density scan?

If you are at risk of osteoporosis or have been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis and are taking medication, your consultant will probably recommend having a bone scan every one to two years. This is to look for changes in your bone density and to check that your medication is working.

At Circle Health Group we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group you can expect the highest standards of care including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that are convenient for you
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant best suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • A range of delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about having a private bone density scan, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in January 2023. Next review due January 2026.

  1. Overview: Bone density scan (DEXA scan), NHS
  2. Bone Density Scan, Medline Plus
  3. Bone Density Scan (DEXA or DXA),
  4. DEXA (DXA) Scan: Bone Density Test, Cleveland Clinic

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