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DEXA scan

Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 14.02.2023 | 2 min read

DEXA is short for 'dual energy X-ray absorptiometry,' a fancy name for a scan that uses mild X-rays to measure how dense bone is. The density of bone helps determine how strong the bone is. The lower the density, the weaker the bone is considered to be. The DEXA scan can be used to diagnose conditions known as osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is when bone density is significantly lower than the normal range for your age and gender, and the bones are, therefore, at a higher risk of breaking easily. Osteopenia is a milder form, with just a slightly lower than average bone density.

Who needs a DEXA scan?

You may be referred for a DEXA scan if you have risk factors for developing osteoporosis or if you have had a bone that broke easily. You will lie on your back on an X-ray bed for the scan, and the DEXA scanner arm will come above you. You will be asked to remove any metal you may be wearing, which can obscure the scanning. A DEXA scan does not hurt and takes around 20 minutes to complete.

What about the radiation?

A DEXA scan exposes you to a small amount of radiation, but it is very small compared to other types of scans, such as a CT scan. The amount of radiation is so small that it does not put you at any significantly higher risk of developing problems in the future, such as radiation-associated cancers. DEXA scans, however, are not recommended in people who are pregnant.

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