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Getting a DEXA Scan – What’s involved?

Do you know your bone density?

 

Discover how to find out with our complete guide to getting a DEXA scan.

Getting a DEXA Scan – What’s involved?

What is a DEXA scan?

A DEXA scan is the gold standard test for measuring bone density, recognised by both the NHS and Royal Osteoporosis Society

The full name for a DEXA (or DXA) scan is, ‘Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry scanning’. The scan uses a very small level of ionising radiation to record the density of certain minerals in the bone (mostly calcium and phosphorous). Typically, the denser the bone, the less likely you are to suffer a fracture.

The level of radiation is much lower than a typical X-ray. Scans usually only take a few minutes and are painless.

As osteoporosis is a silent disease, there are few warning signs; people often don’t know they have the condition until they suffer a fracture. A DEXA scan can help patients and doctors assess whether a person has or is at risk of osteoporosis, and measure how well treatments are working.

Who should have a DEXA scan?

A DEXA scan is useful for anyone interested in understanding their bone health, especially if you’re worried you might be at risk of osteoporosis.

The NHS lists the following as risk factors for low bone density:
  • You have broken a bone after a minor injury or fall. This is especially if you’ve broken a bone after falling from less than standing height.
  • Certain health conditions. Conditions such as arthritis, cancer and hyperparathyroidism can increase your risk of low bone density.
  • Certain medications. Oral glucocorticoids are used to treat inflammation; however, they can reduce your bone density, especially if used for over 3 months.
  • Early menopause. Early menopause is when a woman’s periods stop before the age of 45. This can happen naturally, or as a side effect of some treatments, such as a hysterectomy.
  • A family history of osteoporosis and hip fractures.
  • Smoking and heavy drinking.
  • A low body mass index – typically below 21.

This list is not exhaustive and there are lots of other conditions which can increase your risk of low bone density.

How should I prepare?

A DEXA scan is a relatively simple procedure and doesn’t require much preparation.

Advice varies on whether you need to stop taking calcium supplements 24 hours before your scan. Some research has found taking calcium supplements can inflate your DEXA results.1

It’s best to check with your doctor or DEXA centre whether you need to stop taking calcium supplements before your scan.

Depending on which part of your body is scanned, you should be able to remain fully clothed. Any clothing with metal components, such as hooks, zips, or buckles, needs to be removed as it can interfere with the accuracy of the scan.

What do I do during the scan?

A DEXA scan is similar to other medical scans and x-rays.

All you need to do is answer a questionnaire about your background and lie down on a scanning table/bed. Sometimes the radiographer may need to strap your foot to a block at the end of the table to ensure they can get an accurate scan.

Typically, measures are taken at your lumbar spine (lower back) and hips, as these bones are larger and create a more accurate reading. This usually only takes a few minutes and is painless.

And then you’re done!

Your radiographer will measure your readings against an international database to determine how you compare.

What about radiation exposure?

DEXA scans use a very low-level of radiation, much less than other X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans.2

The radiation level is so low the radiographer typically stays in the same room during the X-ray. Infact, you’re exposed to more radiation on a standard long-haul flight than during a DEXA scan.

Although the radiation levels are low, DEXA scans are not recommended by the NHS if you are pregnant.

What do my DEXA results mean?

So, you’ve got your results. But what do they mean?

DEXA results are given as two scores:

T-scores: Your T-score is the difference (or number of standard deviations) between your bone density and the bone density of an average healthy young adults (the mean). In short, the lower the score, the lower your bone density:

T-Scores

  • A T-score between +1 and -1 indicates normal bone density.

  • A T-score between -1 and -2.5 shows you have low bone density which may develop into osteoporosis (also known as osteopenia).

  • A T-score at or below -2.5 shows severe bone loss and is diagnosed as osteoporosis.

Z-scores: These are similar to T-scores, but instead record the difference (or number of standard deviations) between your bone density and the average bone mineral density of someone your age and gender. This can be useful for comparing yourself with others your age, but T-scores are the ones used to diagnose osteoporosis as they compare your results to a healthy baseline.

 

What about REMS scans?

REMS, short for Radiofrequency Echographic Multi Spectrometry scanning, is another type of bone scan. Rather than using radiation, REMS works by using ultrasound. Like DEXAs, results are compared to a healthy baseline scan, with results given as T-scores.

REMS scans are not currently used in the UK by the NHS but are popular in other countries such as the US.

T-scores given by DEXA and REMS scans can vary, so if you are tracking your bone health it’s important you stick to the same type of scan to ensure you can accurately compare results.

Louise’s Marodyne LiV DEXA scan results

We caught up with Louise at her recent DEXA scan to see how it went and how using the Marodyne LiV device has been helping her improve her bone health.

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Where can I get a DEXA scan?

In the UK, DEXA scans are usually available if you’re over 50 and at risk of developing osteoporosis, or if you are under 50 and have other risk factors. These include low body weight or previous fractures.

Scans are usually only available every two years and access varies. You should ask your doctor or GP whether you’re eligible for an NHS scan.

There are also private DEXA scan centres available across the UK. The price for scans varies but is usually around £200.

If you’re interested in having a DEXA scan privately, we offer a 50%* DEXA reimbursement scheme for UK Marodyne LiV users

Do you know your bone density?

Receive a 50% reimbursement* on your initial and follow-up DEXA scan when you order a Marodyne LiV device.

What can I do if my bone density is low?

A diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis can be tough, but it’s not a life sentence. Knowing your bone density can help you understand your bone health and realise what you need to do to start improving it.

There are lots of ways to start improving your bone health. These include:

  • Weight-bearing exercise has been found to improve your bone mineral density.3 This doesn’t mean you have to go out and lift heavy weights (but by all means do if that’s your thing!). Weight-bearing exercise is any activity where you support your body weight against gravity. This includes dancing, yoga and walking. So, take your pick! The most important thing is you do something you enjoy and can do consistently.

 

  • What you eat and drink can have a direct impact on your bone health. Foods rich in calcium and other key vitamins such as vitamin K and D can have a positive impact on your bone density. Find out more about nutrition and osteoporosis with the Royal Osteoporosis Society’s guide to Nutrition for Bones

 

  • Low-intensity Vibration therapy has been scientifically proven to maintain and increase bone mineral density.4 The gentle vibrations stimulate the mesenchymal stem cells to form bone tissue. It’s already helped thousands of people across the world improve their bone density and combat osteoporosis. Find out more about the Marodyne LiV device

 

Remember, if you have any questions or concerns about your bone health, make sure to speak with your doctor or GP.

The Royal Osteoporosis society have a free helpline, offering specialist support from trained nurses who can advise you on your DEXA results.

 

*T&Cs apply. We offer a 50% reimbursement on your initial and follow up DEXA scan up to the value of £100 per scan. Find out more

References/Sources:

  1. Kendler, David L et al. “Effect of calcium tablets on interpretation of lumbar spine DXA scans.” Journal of clinical densitometry : the official journal of the International Society for Clinical Densitometry 9,1 (2006): 97-104. doi:10.1016/j.jocd.2005.12.002
  2. Mettler, Fred A Jr et al. “Effective doses in radiology and diagnostic nuclear medicine: a catalog.” Radiology 248,1 (2008): 254-63. doi:10.1148/radiol.2481071451
  3. Etherington, J., Harris, P.A., Nandra, D., Hart, D.J., Wolman, R.L., Doyle, D.V. and Spector, T.D. (1996), The effect of weight-bearing exercise on bone mineral density: A study of female ex-elite athletes and the general population. J Bone Miner Res, 11: 1333-1338. https://doi.org/10.1002/jbmr.5650110918
  4. Gilsanz, V., Wren, T.A., Sanchez, M., Dorey, F., Judex, S. and Rubin, C. (2006), Low-Level, High-Frequency Mechanical Signals Enhance Musculoskeletal Development of Young Women With Low BMD. J Bone Miner Res, 21: 1464-1474. https://doi.org/10.1359/jbmr.060612

Get in touch

If you have any questions about Low-intensity Vibration therapy or our DEXA reimbursement scheme, please get in touch