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What is DXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry)?

May 18, 2021
What is DXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry)?
Bone health is an important part of your overall health.

During Osteoporosis Awareness Month, we interview Erin P. to find out how DXA (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) can help patients find out if they have osteoporosis or low bone mass.

What is your job title?

Lead DXA technologist. I have been doing DXA since 2018. I was hired at ISJ as a float X-ray/DXA technologist in 2019 and became the lead in March of 2021.

What is DXA?

DXA is the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry exam, or bone density scan, that measures the density of bone.

Who would need a DXA exam?

People with slender builds, inactive lifestyles, eating disorders, family history of osteoporosis, who smoke, have a history of alcohol consumption, and are/have been on long-term steroids or anticonvulsants have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis.

What should the patient expect?

DXA is very simple. The patient’s weight and height are measured before laying on the exam table. The patient holds still while a mechanical arm hovers above them. They are able to breathe normally during the exam, and the technologist is in the room with them the entire time. The standard exam protocol consists of low dose X-rays of the lumbar spine (low back) and left hip joint. In cases where patients have had bilateral hip replacements, spinal fusions, severe arthritis or scoliosis of the lumbar spine, we scan the nondominant forearm instead.

What does the patient need to do to prepare for the exam?

In preparation for the exam, the patient should hold any calcium supplements for 24 hours prior to the exam, as the supplement could obscure the anatomy we are looking at. We ask the patients to not wear anything with metal — specifically zippers, buttons, grommets — that overlay the spine or hip joints for this reason as well.

How long does the exam take?

The exam is scheduled for 30 minutes, but the exam does not usually take the full time allotted. Most of the time is spent going over the patient questionnaire to verify we have the correct information for the radiologists that read the exams.

The questionnaire gives valuable information that can indicate lifestyle and genetic causes for low bone density. We also allot time to answer any questions the patient may have about the exam. The scan of the low back and hip can take from 30 to 90 seconds each.

What is the advantage of having this done at ISJ?

We have very friendly, dedicated technologists for DXA that are concerned with patient care, as well as accuracy in imaging. Consistency of care — when having follow-up exams at the same location, patients get a more accurate comparison result.

How do I schedule my exam?

Discuss getting a DXA exam with your doctor and have them send an order to Invision Sally Jobe. We cannot perform a DXA without an order from the doctor. Once we receive the order, our scheduling department will call to set up an exam at one of our five locations that perform DXA.

You can also call the scheduling department at 720-493-3700.

(photo: Erin has been a DXA tech at Invision Sally Jobe for two years.)