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Bone density scan (DEXA)

Matawai apiapi kōiwi

A bone density scan is a special low-dose X-ray test to look at how dense or strong your bones are. It's often used to check if you have osteoporosis. It's sometimes called a DEXA scan.

The DEXA scan is done with X-ray equipment and a computer. The scanner sends a thin, invisible beam of low-dose X-rays through your body and the computer calculates the density of your bones.

There are no tunnels or confined spaces, no injections and the procedure is not painful.

The scan usually takes between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on which part of your body is being examined.

Before the scan

You do not need to do anything to prepare for your scan. It's helpful to wear loose, comfortable clothing, avoiding clothes that have zips, belts or buttons made of metal.

If you're pregnant, or think you may be pregnant, discuss this with your doctor and the DEXA staff. As the scan involves a very small dose of radiation, it is not suitable if you're pregnant.

Tell your doctor if you've recently had a barium examination or been injected with a contrast dye for a computed tomography (CT) scan or any other type of scan in the last week. If you have, you may have to wait to have the DEXA scan. Also, let the person doing your scan know if you've had spinal surgery, particularly with metallic implants, or hip surgery (involving screws, pins or a hip replacement).

After the Scan

A specialist doctor (radiologist) will view the images and write a report about what the scan shows. They will send their report to the health professional who asked for the test, who will then discuss the test results with you during a follow-up appointment, over the phone or by email or text message.

Risks of the scan

Having a bone density scan is very safe. The scan uses a much lower level of radiation than standard X-rays.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed December 2022.


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Page reference: 49937

Review key: HISXN-86976