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What is DXA?

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry is a test for bone mineral density. To perform the scan the patient lays on her back on an open examination table while the detector moves above her. The whole procedure takes only a few minutes and is the most accurate way to assess bone density.

Bone density testing by DXA is routinely done to assess bone density in healthy individuals as well as those individuals who take medications to fortify their osteoporotic condition.  This screening test is covered by most insurance companies on a periodic basis.

What are the risk factors for low bone density?

The most important risk factor is being a woman, and the second is age. Low bone density is more common after menopause and the risk is higher the older you are. Any low estrogen state, such as surgical removal of the ovaries or anorexia with loss of menstrual cycles, can cause low bone density. Other risk factors include long-term use of several specific medications, such as thyroid hormone, steroids like prednisone, and others; nutritional disorders; Crohn’s Disease; petite stature; previous chemotherapy for cancer; and bed-rest or sedentary lifestyle.

How often should I have a DEXA study?

Many doctors suggest having a first DEXA before menopause so that there is time to take action before menopause if your bone density is low. If your bone density is normal, it generally does not need to be repeated until after menopause. If your bone density is low your doctor may ask for another scan in a year or two to assess the effect of an intervention. For post-menopausal women with normal bone density, the test should be repeated as advised by your doctor based on your specific risk.
Osteoporosis may affect up to half of women during their lifetimes, and the prevalence of pathologic fractures is expected to climb as life expectancy increases worldwide.
Only one third of patients who experience a fracture related to osteoporosis fully recover their physical function, so early detection and treatment before fractures occur is key.

If my bone density is low what can I do to correct it?

First be sure you have eliminated all the possible causes of calcium loss, like carbonated beverages, alcohol, caffeine and smoking. Next make sure your diet contains ample calcium, probably at least 2000 mg. The most bio-available calcium is in dairy products like fluid milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, etc. Vitamin C promotes calcium absorption, so calcium-fortified orange juice is a good choice. Vitamin D is important for healthy bones, and your doctor can order a blood test to determine if yours is adequate. Many calcium supplements are not well-absorbed but can be added if needed. Weight-bearing exercise is essential to both maintaining and increasing bone density. Yoga and Pilates can be helpful in building core strength and improving bone density. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to correct your low bone density, but these work best when there is ample dietary calcium and exercise to stimulate bone growth.

For more information please visit www.osteo.org for more information.