Updated: 2018, Sep 25

What Is Bone Densitometry And What Are Its Benefits And Side Effects?

By - Reviewed by CHD Team
Bone Densitometry

What is Bone Densitometry?

Bone densitometry also called bone density scanning is a method of measuring the bone density. Bone densitometry is usually performed to determine whether a person has osteoporosis or to check the progress for treatment of osteoporosis.

Bone densitometry is painless, noninvasive test and uses X-ray beams which have different energy levels which are pointed to the patient’s bones then the soft tissue absorption is subtracted out and the bone mineral density is determined. Bone densitometry uses ionizing radiation which creates pictures of the inner body and is usually performed on the hip and spine but sometimes the whole body can be scanned.

What are the Common Uses of Bone Densitometry?

Bone densitometry is usually used to diagnose and also to check the progress of treatment for osteoporosis. It can also be used to evaluate the risks of breaking bones. These risks include age, family history of bone fractures, unhealthy habits such as smoking and engaging in excess alcohol intake, and small body frame.

You should go for a bone densitometry if:

  • You are a man with risks of osteoporosis.
  • You are a postmenopausal woman.
  • You have a family history of bone fractures.
  • You use certain medications such as corticosteroids, and anti-seizure drugs.
  • You have a high bone turnover.
  • You have certain illnesses such as kidney disease, liver disease, and type 1 diabetes.
  • You have disorders such as hyperparathyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
  • You have a fracture after a small impact (stress fracture).

Another X-ray called Lateral Vertebral Assessment (LVA) can also be used to scan the spine if the person affected has back pains when the DXA scan gives results that cannot determine whether someone has osteoporosis or when the patient has kyphosis.

Why Should I Have a DXA Scan?

A dual energy X-ray absorptiometry scan gives you results that show your bone density. You can discuss your results with the doctor so that you can get an advice on what to do to keep your bones healthy.

What Will Happen During DXA Scan?

A DXA scan usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The test is not painful and doesn’t require a lot of preparation.

You will need to lie on your back at the X-ray table so that the scan can be performed. If you have clothes that have metals you will have to take them off. In some cases, you will be required to wear a gown.

What are the The Benefits of Bone Densitometry?

Bone Densitometry Benefits

The benefits and risk of bone densitometry include:

  • Anaesthesia is not required.
  • Radiation does not remain in the body of the person who has undergone bone densitometry.
  • The X-ray doesn’t have side effects.
  • It is the most accurate method for diagnosing osteoporosis.
  • It is simple, quick and non-invasive.
  • DXA bone densitometry testing equipment is widely available making it convenient.

What are the The Risk of Bone Densitometry?

Bone densitometry has a few risks. These include:

  • Excess exposure to radiation can cause cancer but the DXA radiations are usually low.
  • The radiation can have an effect on the foetus if a woman is pregnant and undergoes a DXA scan.
  • The dosage of radiation varies for it to be effective.

Limitations of Bone Densitometry

Bone densitometry cannot predict who will get a fracture. It can also be inaccurate if the patient has osteoarthritis or vertebral compression fractures.

Bone densitometry can also be expensive especially the central DXA. Tests that are done in the other parts of the body, spine, and hip excluded, cannot monitor the progress of treatment.

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