Osteoporosis occurs when bone loss is so severe that it lowers bone density and causes bones to become porous, brittle and likely to break. Reduced bone strength can lead to fractures resulting in a loss of mobility and independence. Osteoporosis and related bone disorders affect 27 million American women. While some bone loss can be expected as part of the normal aging process, osteoporosis is a dangerous disease. In fact, osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” because it doesn’t produce symptoms until a fracture occurs.
Increased awareness of osteoporosis has led to more advanced methods of diagnosing and monitoring the disease even before any symptoms are present. To assist in diagnosing low bone density, physicians may prescribe a Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry or DXA scan. This bone densitometry examination estimates the amount of bone mineral content in specific areas of the body, typically the spine and hip.
Bone is living tissue that is constantly being broken down and reformed. As a person grows, bone forms faster than it breaks down until it reaches a peak bone mass between the ages of 25 and 35. After age 35, both men and women lose bone at a greater rate than it forms, causing bone loss. After menopause,women start to lose bone at a much more rapid rate than men of the same age. This rapid bone loss is usually due to a decrease in the production of the hormone, estrogen. As a greater amount of bone is lost, the bones become porous and brittle and much more susceptible to fracture. Early detection is the best way to prevent osteoporosis.
Your physician will use the bone density information to decide if treatment for osteoporosis is needed. Whether or not treatment is prescribed, you may need a follow-up study at a later date to evaluate for possible progression of bone loss.
A certified radiology technologist at Washington Radiology will conduct the exam. You will be asked to lie still on the scan table but you will be able to breathe normally throughout the procedure. A scanner (using a dual energy beam of very low dose x-rays) will pass over the lower spine/hip area. You will not feel anything during the exam. DXA technology works by measuring the amount of x-rays that are absorbed by the bones in your body. The two x-ray energies allow the machine to differentiate between bone and soft tissue, giving a very accurate estimation of bone density. The radiologist will produce a report for your physician based on the bone density measurements and your medical history.
DXA scanning has been proven to be the most accurate method of measuring bone density; it uses the least amount of radiation, and is lower in cost than other methods.
No. Although the two are often confused because they sound alike, they are completely different. A bone scan is a nuclear medicine study used to determine other elements of bone health such as hairline fractures and cancerous deposits. It does not determine bone density.
This examination lasts approximately 15 minutes.
The amount of radiation for a DXA scan is only a fraction of that received from a standard chest x-ray. It is comparable to the amount received on a transcontinental airline flight. The DXA method produces less radiation than other methods. Although DXA emits a very low amount of radiation, always inform the technologist if there is a chance that you are pregnant.
Unless instructed otherwise, eat normally on the day of the exam; but avoid taking calcium supplements for at least 24 hours prior to your appointment. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Sweat suits and other casual attire without zippers, buttons, grommets or any metal are preferred. You should not have had a barium study, radioisotope injection, or oral contrast material from a CT scan or MRI within seven days prior to your DXA study.
A VFA or Vertebral Fracture Assessment is a 10-second x-ray of the spine, taken in combination with DXA. With VFA, doctors can see existing vertebral (spine) fractures, which may indicate the need for more aggressive treatment, even if the DXA bone density results are in the “normal” range. Not all patients need a VFA. However, using VFA—when clinically indicated—can be beneficial in assessing bone health.
DXA is covered under most insurance plans. Medicare covers biannual screening DXA exams, and more frequently if medically indicated. Always check with your insurance carrier to determine your specific coverage.
Kirsten Hanson, MD, radiologist at Washington Radiology Associates, discusses osteoporosis in men on TV News Channel 7. Watch Now.
June 30, 2009
Kirsten Hanson, MD, radiologist at Washington Radiology Associates, talks about osteoporosis on the "Watch News Channel 8 Live!" with anchor Dave Lucas. Watch Now.
May 20, 2009
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Washington Radiology provides imaging services for patients upon referral from a physician. Patients are seen by appointment. However, emergencies do occur and we make every attempt to accommodate these cases. To schedule your DXA study at Washington Radiology, please call: (703) 280-9800