Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense, causing them to fracture (break) more easily. A DEXA scan is used to measure bone density. 


Anyone, regardless of gender and age, who displays one or more of the risk factors for osteoporosis should have a DEXA scan. The earlier it is identified, the more that can be done to prevent it progressing. 

What is a DEXA scan?

The DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) scan delivers a direct measurement of bone density. Currently, it is the most accurate and reliable means of assessing the strength of your bones and your risk of breaking a bone. 

A DEXA scan is fast (10 to 15 minutes), accurate and painless and the dose of radiation used is extremely low.

There is no particular preparation required for a DEXA scan. If preparation is required, you will be informed in advance.

  • Remember to bring your completed DEXA questionnaire form.
  • It is advised that you wear comfortable clothing that can be easily changed if required. Minimal jewellery is also advised as this may need to be removed depending on the type of X-ray you are having. 

What happens during the scan?

At the beginning of the scan, the radiographer will weigh you and measure your height. You will then lie on a padded examination table. You may be asked to change into a hospital gown for the scan. 

You will be asked to lie completely still while the DEXA scanner moves over the body part that is being scanned – usually the lower spine and hips.

It may be slightly uncomfortable holding the correct position and/or lying on the X-ray table while the image is produced, but the procedure itself is painless and only takes 10 to 15 minutes.

After a DEXA scan

In most cases, you will be able to leave the Radiology Department immediately. The images and the scan report are then studied by a radiologist (doctor who uses X-rays to diagnose and treat illnesses) and the results will be sent to the doctor who referred you. 

  • Your DEXA scan results are given in the form of a T-score. This is where your scan results are compared to peak bone mass, which the normal bone density is found in healthy people aged between 23 and 35.
  • A Z-score is also calculated by comparing your results to the bone density of people of your own age. However, osteoporosis will be clinically diagnosed based on your T-score.

Getting results

Results will be sent to your referring clinician. You may already have an appointment with the doctor who referred you. If not, you may need to contact them to discuss the results and any potential treatment you may need.

  • GP results will be sent out within five to seven working days. Please note that GP practices can avail of an electronic system to access their patients' results. Please contact info@healthlink.ie if your practice has interest in this system.
  • Outpatients will receive results at their next outpatient appointment.
  • If you are a hospital inpatient, the results will be available to the doctors looking after you on the ward.

 

Referrals

All DEXA scans need a referral letter from your GP or consultant.

We have an appointment-based service for DEXA scans. When you receive your appointment notice, you will be asked to complete a DEXA questionnaire and you should bring this with you to your appointment. The questionnaire will check things like pregnancy status, previous surgeries and medications. The radiographer will also need to know if  this is your first scan or not, to allow your results to be compared.