Bone density: How thick/heavy/tightly packed with minerals your bones are. The more tightly packed—the denser your bones—the stronger they are, and the less likely to break. When bone density falls below a certain level, you have osteoporosis.
DEXA scan: Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, the most common, and one of the most accurate ways to measure bone density.
If you’re any woman approaching age 65; a younger, post-menopausal women with osteoporosis risk factors (e.g., family history); or anyone with known osteoporosis risk factors, a DEXA scan may be in your near future.
For all of you readers who’ve never had a DEXA scan and see one looming in your future, let me tell you: it’s about the easiest test you’ll ever have.
Don't forget to put the appointment on your calendar: that's step #1!
First, the preparation. Never mind the fasting for cholesterol, or the super-nasty prep for a colonoscopy. A DEXA scan requires only that you not wear perfume or lotion; and that your clothes should be without buttons, zippers, or snaps: think elastic-waist pants and a turtleneck.
Whoops, forgot to take my work badge off. But this is the idea: elastic waist pants, pullover shirt.
Easy, huh? If you don’t have sweatpants or equivalent, don’t worry; you can still have your DEXA. It just means you’ll have to take your clothes of and wear one of those stunning, open-backed hospital johnnies.
Where will your DEXA scan be administered? Your hospital or clinic will almost certainly group DEXA scans with the other two common radiological tests: mammograms, and routine X-rays. If you’ve had either of those, you’ll know where to go for your DEXA.
Radiology is usually where you'll have your DEXA scan.
You’ll be taken into a room, asked to remove your shoes, and told to lie on an exam table.
So far, so good, huh?
The box-like scanner hovers over the area approximately where your knees will be. The person administering the scan will start with your hip, left hip if you’re right-handed, right hip if you’re left-handed. He or she will position you just so, your feet slightly spread, then tie your foot to anchor the hip (s)he’ll be scanning.
My left foot is tied to a support so I don't move my leg.
You’ll be asked to relax, breathe normally, and don’t move. The machine will move slowly overhead, scanning your hip; this takes no longer than 20 seconds or so. Don’t worry; unlike an MRI, you’re completely out in the open, and the scanner is absolutely silent.
This is as close as the scanner gets; not like an MRI at all.
Next, you’ll have four vertebrae in your spine scanned. For this, you’ll be asked to raise your legs and drape them over a box, so that your knees make a right angle. Then, same routine: hold still, breathe normally… 20 seconds or so, you’re done. End of story. Hop off the table, put on your shoes, you’re outta there.