What Is a DEXA Scan and How Can It Help?

10 mins read
doctor and woman bone density
Written by:
The BodySpec Team

When it comes to assessing bone health and evaluating body composition, a DEXA scan can provide valuable insights. As an advanced imaging technique that uses X-ray technology, a DEXA scan produces highly accurate results that can help doctors and patients alike better understand their bodies. In this article, we'll dive deeper into what a DEXA scan is, how it works, and explore the different ways it can help you.

Understanding DEXA Scans

What is a DEXA Scan?

Simply put, a DEXA scan is an imaging technique that measures bone mineral density (BMD) and body composition. The process is entirely painless and non-invasive, with the scan lasting around ten minutes. It uses low-level radiation to produce images of the body that can help doctors to diagnose osteoporosis and other conditions.

But what exactly is bone mineral density? BMD refers to the amount of minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, that are present in a person's bones. The higher the BMD, the stronger the bones are, and the less likely they are to break or fracture.

The History of DEXA Scans

The first DEXA scan was performed in the mid-1970s, with the technology evolving significantly since then. Today more than 10 million DEXA scans are performed each year for bone density testing in the United States alone. The development of DEXA scans has been a crucial advancement in the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis, allowing doctors and patients to see changes in bone strength over time and develop personalized treatment plans.

Before the invention of DEXA scans, doctors relied on less accurate methods of measuring bone density, such as X-rays or ultrasound. These methods could only measure bone density in one area of the body at a time, while DEXA scans can measure bone density in multiple areas simultaneously.

How DEXA Scans Work

During a DEXA scan, the patient lies on a table while the scanner arm passes over the body. The scanner produces two X-ray beams, with different energy levels. As the X-ray beams pass through the body, they are absorbed differently by bone and soft tissue. A computer calculates the difference between the two absorption rates to generate a detailed image of the body's composition.

These images are incredibly precise, allowing doctors to measure bone density in specific areas of the body with remarkable accuracy. With the information gathered through a DEXA scan, doctors can assess fracture risk and monitor the effectiveness of treatment for osteoporosis and other conditions.

But DEXA scans aren't just useful for measuring bone density. They can also provide valuable information about a person's body composition, including their percentage of body fat and muscle mass. This information can be helpful for athletes looking to optimize their training or for individuals trying to lose weight and improve their overall health.

Overall, DEXA scans are a safe and effective tool for diagnosing and monitoring a variety of conditions related to bone health and body composition. If you're concerned about your bone health, talk to your doctor about whether a DEXA scan might be right for you.

The Benefits of DEXA Scans

Assessing Bone Health

One of the primary benefits of a DEXA scan is that it provides a highly accurate measurement of bone mineral density. This allows doctors to assess the strength of bones and identify any issues that may lead to fractures or breaks. Regular DEXA scans can help to identify osteoporosis early and track bone loss over time, allowing for earlier interventions and more effective treatment options.

When it comes to bone health, prevention is key. By monitoring bone density regularly, doctors can identify any issues early on and take action to prevent further bone loss. This can be especially important for older adults, who may be more susceptible to bone fractures and breaks.

Monitoring Osteoporosis Treatment

If you are living with osteoporosis, a DEXA scan can be an invaluable tool in monitoring treatment over time. By measuring bone density regularly, doctors can see how treatment is impacting the strength of bones and adjust the treatment plan if necessary. This can help patients to avoid fractures and maintain their independence for longer periods.

It's important to note that osteoporosis treatment is not one-size-fits-all. By monitoring bone density and adjusting treatment plans accordingly, doctors can develop personalized treatment plans that are tailored to each patient's unique needs and circumstances.

Evaluating Body Composition

DEXA scans are not just useful for assessing bone health. They are also used widely to evaluate body composition, allowing doctors to see how much body fat, lean mass, and bone tissue comprises a patient's body. This information can be incredibly helpful in developing personalized nutrition and exercise plans or monitoring changes in body composition over time.

Body composition can play a major role in overall health and wellness. By understanding how much body fat and lean mass a patient has, doctors can develop targeted interventions to help patients achieve their health goals and improve their overall quality of life.

Identifying Fracture Risks

A DEXA scan can help doctors to identify the risk of fractures in patients, including those with or without osteoporosis. With this information, doctors can take action to prevent fractures before they occur, helping patients maintain their mobility and independence.

Fractures can be incredibly debilitating, especially for older adults. By identifying fracture risks early on, doctors can take steps to prevent falls and other accidents that could lead to serious injuries.

Overall, DEXA scans are an incredibly valuable tool for assessing bone health, monitoring osteoporosis treatment, evaluating body composition, and identifying fracture risks. By working closely with your doctor and getting regular DEXA scans, you can take control of your bone health and reduce your risk of fractures and other bone-related issues.

The DEXA Scan Procedure

The DEXA scan, also known as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, is a diagnostic test that measures bone mineral density (BMD). This test is commonly used to diagnose osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones and increases the risk of fractures. The DEXA scan is a quick, painless, and non-invasive procedure that provides accurate and reliable results.

Preparing for your DEXA Scan

Before your DEXA scan, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, it is important to wear comfortable clothing that does not have any metal or zippers. This is because metal can interfere with the scanner and affect the accuracy of the results. Additionally, it is recommended that you avoid taking calcium supplements for at least 24 hours before your scan. This is because calcium can affect the absorption of the X-rays and make the results less accurate. If you have had a barium or contrast material from an imaging test such as a CT scan, MRI, or X-ray, you should wait a week before your DEXA scan.

What to Expect During the Scan

During the DEXA scan, you will lie on a table while a scanner passes over your body. The scanner emits a small amount of radiation. The amount of radiation used is very low, and the procedure is considered safe for most people. You will be asked to remain still during the scan to ensure the most accurate reading. The procedure is non-invasive and painless, with no cutting or injections required.

The DEXA scan typically takes about ten minutes to complete. The scanner will measure the density of your bones in specific areas of your body, such as your spine, hip, or forearm. This information is used to calculate your BMD and determine your risk of developing osteoporosis. The results of the scan will be sent to your doctor, who will interpret the results and provide you with a detailed report.

Interpreting Your DEXA Scan Results

After your DEXA scan, your doctor will be able to interpret the results and provide you with a detailed report. The report will indicate the BMD of specific areas of your body, such as your spine, hip, or forearm, and your overall body composition. Your doctor will explain the results to you and suggest any necessary follow-up or treatment options.

If your BMD is lower than normal, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as increasing your calcium and vitamin D intake, and engaging in weight-bearing exercises. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of fractures.

It is important to remember that a DEXA scan is just one tool that doctors use to assess bone health. Your doctor will take into account your medical history, risk factors, and other diagnostic tests to determine the best course of action for you.

Comparing DEXA Scans to Other Imaging Techniques

When it comes to measuring bone density and body composition, there are several imaging techniques available to medical professionals. While each method has its own strengths and weaknesses, DEXA scans are often considered the gold standard for assessing bone health. Let's take a closer look at how they compare to other imaging techniques.

DEXA Scan vs. X-ray

X-rays have been used for decades to image bones and diagnose fractures. However, when it comes to measuring bone density, they are not as accurate as DEXA scans. X-rays can only provide a two-dimensional image of the bone, while DEXA scans create a three-dimensional image that allows for a more precise measurement of bone density. Additionally, DEXA scans are much faster than X-rays, taking only a few minutes to complete. This means that patients are exposed to less radiation during the imaging process.

DEXA Scan vs. CT Scan

Both DEXA scans and CT scans use X-ray technology, but they are used for different purposes. CT scans are typically used to image organs and tissues inside the body, such as the liver, kidneys, or lungs. They are also useful for detecting abnormalities like tumors or cysts. DEXA scans, on the other hand, are primarily used to measure bone density and body composition. While CT scans can provide some information about bone density, they are not as accurate as DEXA scans for this purpose.

DEXA Scan vs. MRI

MRI scans use magnetic fields and radio waves to capture detailed images of organs and tissues inside the body. They are often used to diagnose joint problems, such as torn ligaments or cartilage damage. However, when it comes to measuring bone density or body composition, MRI scans are not as effective as DEXA scans. While they can provide some information about bone density, the images are not as precise as those obtained with a DEXA scan.

In conclusion, while there are several imaging techniques available to assess bone density and body composition, DEXA scans are often considered the most accurate and efficient method. They provide a three-dimensional image of the bone that allows for precise measurements, and they are much faster than other imaging techniques. If you are concerned about your bone health, talk to your doctor about whether a DEXA scan is right for you.


DEXA scans can be a valuable tool in assessing bone health, evaluating body composition, and identifying the risk of fractures in patients. Their fast and non-invasive nature makes them a preferred method of imaging for many doctors and patients alike. If you think you may benefit from a DEXA scan, speak to your doctor, who can help you decide whether this imaging technique is right for you.

Recommended articles
woman on phone
02 Dec
8 mins read
Bone Physio
01 Dec
4 mins read
Bones: Make it or Break it
GLP-1 for fat loss
04 Jun
12 mins read
Exploring the Impact of GLP-1 on Muscle Mass
We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website and services. Read more in our Privacy Policy here.