DEXA: Are Your Bones Healthy?

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Osteoporosis is called a silent disease because it’s often not detected until a bone fracture occurs. But your body may be talking to you long before that happens. Loss of height over time and back pain may be signs of bone loss.

“Osteopenia is the beginning of osteoporosis,” says Sierra-Amber Mabry, RT, Prescott Medical Imaging (PMI) at Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC). “Osteoporosis causes low bone mass and makes you more susceptible to spontaneous, non-trauma fractures.”

An estimated 10 million Americans, 80 percent of them women, suffer from osteoporosis. An additional 44 million Americans have osteopenia, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis.

How DEXA Works
Screening for bone density – how strong your bones are – is the only way to determine if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia. The imaging experts at PMI in Prescott and the Breast Care Center at Dignity Health, YRMC East in Prescott Valley use advanced dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) technology to:

  • Measure bone density and loss
  • Assess risk for bone fractures
  • Screen for osteoporosis, osteopenia and other bone-related health problems

YRMC’s imaging facilities use Hologic equipment which scans your hip bones and lower spine, or your forearms. These exams are painless and use a much lower level of radiation than standard X-rays.

“The radiation from a DEXA scan is lower than the amount of radiation you receive in a single day from background radiation sources like the sun and the environment,” says Mabry.

Getting Ready for Your DEXA
A DEXA scan takes a total of 20 minutes from the changing room to the exam room. During the exam, you lie on your back as the scanner passes over your body. Your radiologic technologist will place a sponge block under your knees to alleviate lower-back discomfort.

“Unlike an MRI or a CT scan, DEXA scans are open,” Mabry explains. “The DEXA X-ray table doesn’t have an enclosed tube, which can make some people feel claustrophobic.”

If you’re scheduled for a DEXA, Mabry recommends that you:

  • Bring the DEXA order from your provider
  • Wear comfortable clothing
  • Leave your jewelry at home
  • Don’t take calcium pills for 24 hours prior to your scan

“We’ll ask you to change into a gown for your DEXA exam,” Mabry says. “The purpose of this is to ensure we have uniformity for every exam so that we don’t have to repeat your scan. It also saves you time if you arrive in clothing you can change in and out of quickly.”

Understanding your DXA Scan Results
Your DEXA scan results are sent to your physician within 24-48 hours after the exam. Your results are available to you within 72 hours on YRMC Care Connect, YRMC’s patient portal.

DEXA scan results are presented as a “T-score” and fall into the following ranges:

  • +1.0 to -1.0 = normal bone density
  • -1.0 and -2.5 = osteopenia or low bone density
  • -2.5 or below = osteoporosis

“Lots of people don’t know that osteopenia and osteoporosis are treatable,” Mabry says. “Your doctor can give you medication and your bone density can improve. This means you’ll be less likely to suffer a non-trauma fracture in the future.”

You can also speak to your physician about other ways to improve your bone health, including:

  • Consuming a calcium-rich diet
  • Taking calcium and vitamin D
  • Doing weight-bearing exercises (walking, jogging or light aerobics, for example)
  • Giving up smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol or consuming alcohol in moderation

For more information about the DEXA exam, visit PMI’s website or the Breast Care Center’s web community. To find out if you should undergo a DEXA scan, speak to your physician.

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