A bone density test, also called DEXA or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, is a painless, noninvasive diagnostic imaging procedure that uses low-dose X-rays to make pictures of the hip and lower spine to measure bone loss. Also called a bone densitometry, this is the standard, most common test for osteoporosis.

DEXA scans are also effective in monitoring treatment for osteoporosis and other conditions that cause bone loss, such as arthritis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The DEXA test can also assess your risk for bone fractures.

The University of Maryland Department of Diagnostic Radiology performs these scans at the University Imaging Center in downtown Baltimore and works in conjunction with the specialists at University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology.

What to Expect During Bone Density Scan

Do not take any calcium supplements for at least 24 hours before your DEXA scan. Tell your doctor or X-ray technologist if you may be pregnant, recently had a barium exam or an injection of contrast for a CT or radioisotope scan.

Otherwise, there is no special preparation. You can eat normally the day of your scan. Wear loose clothing, although we may ask you to wear a gown for the exam, which takes about 30 minutes. After your procedure, you can resume normal activities.

An X-ray technologist performs the test, and one of our radiologists will review the images to make a diagnosis.

Why You Need DEXA Scan

There are no substitutes for a bone density scan. This test helps doctors diagnose osteoporosis and determine your risk for broken bones. You may need a bone density test if you break a bone after age 50 or:

  • Are a woman age 65 or older or a man 70 or older
  • Are menopausal or postmenopausal with risk factors
  • You have back pain with a possible spine break
  • A spine X-ray shows a break or bone loss
  • You lost a half inch in height within a year or 1.5 inches total in height
  • You have a thyroid or parathyroid condition

Bone Density Scan Risks

The DEXA scan uses very low doses of X-ray to minimize your exposure to radiation. Today's X-ray systems have controlled beams that focus mainly on the area tested.

Benefits of DEXA

The scan is quick, noninvasive and painless. Other benefits include:

  • No anesthesia needed
  • No radiation remains in the body after the test
  • X-rays usually have no side effects at this exposure level
  • DEXA is the standard test for osteoporosis and risk of bone breaks
  • The procedure is available nationwide

Scheduling an Appointment

To make a bone density scan appointment, please call 410-328-3225. Get maps and directions to our imaging locations.