What are Osteoporosis Scans?

Osteoporosis is a health condition characterized by weak and brittle bones. An individual suffering from this condition has brittle bones that mild stress or fall can cause a fracture. Bone is a hard connective tissue, which is being broken down and replaced constantly. Osteoporosis is a condition that occurs when new bone growth does not keep up with the old bone loss.

The condition can affect both men and women. Although it affects people of all ethnicities, research shows that Asian and White people, including older women, are at higher risk. A healthy diet, medications, and weight-bearing exercises can strengthen weak bones and prevent bone loss.

A doctor orders a bone density scan to diagnose osteoporosis and evaluate the risk of fracture. The test or exam is used to measure bone mineral density. The exam is performed using bone densitometry or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). In today’s article, we will talk about osteoporosis scans. Read on!

The Importance of Osteoporosis Scans

An osteoporosis scan uses a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), which is a specialized X-ray machine. The result of the scan shows if an individual has normal bone density, osteopenia, or osteoporosis. Osteopenia refers to low bone density. DEXA is one of the most effective ways to tell if a person has osteoporosis.

As mentioned above, osteoporosis causes your bones to lose density over time. It makes your bones thin, which eventually cause fragility and susceptibility to breakage. These scans allow the doctor to determine the condition early.

That way, the doctor can make health plans to prevent the condition from getting worse. Proper treatment on time can also help reduce the risk of fractures. Osteoporosis scans or DEXA scans are an excellent diagnostic tool to assess the intensity of osteoporosis.

A health professional usually orders another scan after the first DEXA scan. However, it happens in a couple of years, and its purpose is to determine changes in bone density. Besides, DEXA scans can assess the effectiveness of prescribed treatment for osteoporosis.

The scan can indicate whether the bone density is worsening or improving. It also tells the doctor if the bone density has remained the same. Research studies show that makes over age 70 and females over the age of 65 must undergo a DEXA scan. The scan frequency usually varies depending on the outcomes.

Studies show that individuals who receive treatment for osteoporosis require a DEXA scan every 1-2 years. Postmenopausal female individuals who are below the age of 65 also have a risk of osteopenia. Therefore, they must also have a DEXA scan.  

The Process of Osteoporosis Scan

A patient who has osteoporosis does not need to prepare before the scan. You can drink and eat on the day of the scan. However, if you are taking calcium supplements, it is essential to stop them at least one day before the DEXA scan. Here is how the procedure is performed.

Based on the doctor’s guidelines, an X-ray technician performs the DEXA scan on an outpatient basis. You will wear a hospital gown and remove metal objects, such as eyeglasses, keychains, jewelry, etc., and then lie on your back on the exam table at the start of the scan. The X-ray technician will then place an imaging device above and an X-ray generator below you.

During the scan, the imaging arm will move slowly over your body while low-beam energy passes through your body. The technician will scan your spine and hips to measure bone density. Research highlights that these are common fracture locations in individuals with osteoporosis.

However, in some cases, the technician may also scan a person’s lower arm, finger, and wrist. During a DEXA exam, the doctor may also perform a procedure called the “vertebral fracture assessment.” It is a test that helps determine the presence of a vertebral fracture.

Your entire body will undergo scanning if the doctor wants to measure your body composition. It requires measuring skinfold thickness at certain sites on your body. That way, your doctor can measure or determine your body fat percentage.

Safety and Precautions

The patient needs to remain still during the scan to prevent blurry images. The entire procedure will take 30 minutes, and it is relatively a painless process. Generally, the DEXA scan is a safe procedure for most individuals.

Because the machine uses X-rays, you will have radiation exposure. If you are a pregnant woman, it is crucial to consult your health provider before undergoing such an exam. Experts recommend talking to your doctor before having body scans that involve X-rays.

Osteoporosis Scan Results

Health professionals, including physicians and radiologists, can accurately interpret radiology scan results. However, DEXA scans are usually interpreted by endocrinologists and rheumatologists.

A doctor reviews the DEXA scan and assesses the presence of clinical factors like respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disorder, chronic renal disease, and osteoporosis. In this case, we are talking about osteoporosis.

The test results show two types of scores: T-score and Z-score. The first one shows the amount of bone an individual has compared with another young individual with peak bone mass. If your score is -1, your bone density is normal, but if it is between -1.1 and -2.4, it means you have low bone mass or osteopenia.

On the other hand, if your T-score is -2.5 or below, it means you have osteoporosis. The T-score is a standard used to determine or estimate the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. It also helps a health professional to determine if you need treatment.

Z-score is a number that reflects the amount of bone an individual has with other people in the same age, size, and gender group. If the score is unusually low or high, it means you have to undergo further medical tests.

Your doctor may observe small changes between scans, which are due to differences in positioning. Remember, these changes observed in the scan are insignificant and harmless. So, you don’t need to worry about them.

Is the Scan invasive?

No, the DEXA scan used for osteoporosis is a simple, noninvasive procedure. The procedure is painless and does not require the doctor or technician to use instruments or needles to place through the skin.

Like other scanning procedures, the DEXA scan uses a beam of low-dose energy or radiation, which is harmless in most situations. However, pregnant women should consult their health providers before undergoing the procedure.

How Much Does it Cost?

Although the cost of scan varies from lab to lab or hospital to hospital, it can cost up to $125. Sometimes, health professionals prescribe medication to people who have mild bone loss, which can cost them more money. The cost also depends on how many scans you undergo, your locations, and interpretation of results by a qualified health professional.

How Long Does DEXA Scan take?

DEXA scan is a simple, noninvasive, and effective procedure. The procedure involves an X-ray detector that measures the amount of X-rays passed through the body. The machine uses this information to produces photos of the scanned area. The entire procedure takes 10-20 minutes. Sometimes, the procedure can take 30 minutes.

Common Applications

The most common application of a DEXA scan is the diagnosis of osteoporosis. It is a health condition that can affect both men and women. However, it affects more women than men. The condition occurs after menopause and is characterized by a gradual loss of bone.

Other signs include structural changes in connective tissue, which cause the bones to become weaker and thinner. A bone with delicate structures is more likely to break even with mild stress, such as bending forward or bending over.

A DEXA scan is likewise effective in monitoring the effects of osteoporosis treatment that other health conditions that lead to bone loss. The scan can also evaluate a person’s risk of developing bone fractures.

Several factors affect the risks of fractures, and these factors are the history of prior fracture, body weight, age, family history of osteoporosis, lifestyle issues, including excessive alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking.

Experts recommend osteoporosis scans or bone density testing to people who are postmenopausal women and taking estrogen and having a maternal or personal history of smoking or hip fracture.

The scan is also recommended for postmenopausal women who are tall and thin. For instance, if you are over 5-feet 7 inches and less than 125 pounds, it is crucial to undergo this procedure to know your bone mass density. That way, you can reduce the risk of osteoporosis by getting proper treatment on time.

DEXA Scans are also used for conditions like:

If you have health disorders like chronic liver and renal disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, you should undergo the DEXA scan. Many people use medications that can cause bone loss. These medications are corticosteroids, including Prednisone, Dilantin, and high-dose thyroid replacement drugs.

Moreover, if you have Type-1 diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, or a family history of osteopenia or osteoporosis, you can undergo DEXA scan. The purpose is to know the intensity of osteoporosis so that the doctor prescribe the proper treatment to cope with the situation.

Bone density tests are also used for conditions like hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, and fractures after mild trauma. If you have a vertebral fracture or any other osteoporosis signs, it is crucial to undergo such a test or scan. Furthermore, the scan is also used for determining the cause of lumbar spine pain, vertebral deformity, and spinal fractures.

Advantages of Osteoporosis Scans

Osteoporosis scans are simple, noninvasive and quick procedures. There is no need for the patient to undergo anesthesia, and the amount of radiation used is low – i.e. one-tenth the dose of X-ray. It is one of the best ways to diagnose osteoporosis and the risk of related fractures. Health professional uses the scan to decide the treatment plan.

The scan can also be used to track the effects of treatment for osteoporosis. The equipment is widely available at hospitals, making the osteoporosis scans convenient for both patients and health providers. There is no radiation in your body once you have completed the examination. Osteoporosis scans do not lead to any adverse effects.

Final Words

Osteoporosis or DEXA scans are high-precision X-ray examination used to measure bone mineral density and the intensity of bone loss. It is a safe, noninvasive, and quick procedure that does not cause any side effects. It is because the machine uses a beam of low-dose radiation that does not remain in your body after the examination.

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