DXA Scan: A Guide for Parents

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DXA scannerDXA stands for “Dual-energy X-ray Absorptiometry”. It’s the most widely used method to measure bone density (how solid a person’s bones are).

Does a DXA scan hurt?

The test doesn’t hurt. There are no injections or medications to take. The machine is open, which means your daughter will not be enclosed in the machine. Each scan takes approximately 1-6 minutes.

How should I help my daughter prepare for the DXA scan?

  • Appointments are usually scheduled at least 10-14 days after having any procedure that involves contrast materials (for example, a CT Scan with contrast dye).
  • Your daughter can eat normally, but she should not take calcium supplements, vitamins, or TUMS® the morning of the scan.
  • Your daughter should wear comfortable clothing (including undergarments) without metal buttons, hooks, snaps, or zippers because metal interferes with this test. If the clothing she wears to the appointment will interfere with the scan, she will be given a hospital gown to put on. Your daughter should remove any jewelry and all piercings (if possible).

Preparation for DXA scan is based on the procedure at Boston Children’s Hospital and may be different in other health care facilities.

What happens during the DXA scan?

  1. The technician will ask your daughter questions about his/her medical history and explain the procedure.
  2. Your daughter will have her height and weight measured. A routine pregnancy test is done in most hospitals on all menstruating females.
  3. Your daughter will be positioned on the table according to the type of scan she will be having.
  4. A machine shaped like an upside down “L” will slowly move back and forth over your daughter’s stomach area to measure the bone density of her spine and hips. The machine will not touch her body. She will be asked to stay still and not talk during the entire scan. Encourage your daughter to ask the technician questions about the procedure.

Should I be concerned about the amount of radiation my daughter will receive?

No. The amount of radiation is much lower than that of an x-ray. In fact, it is even less than the amount of radiation that a person would be exposed to if they took an international flight.

When will we get the results of my daughter’s DXA scan?

Results are not typically available on the day of your daughter’s appointment. The DXA scan must be carefully reviewed by the technologist and a health care provider (HCP) who specializes in bone health. The HCP ordering the DXA scan will usually review the results with you and your child within 2 weeks either over the phone or at his/her next appointment. If needed, a follow-up scan will be done no sooner than 1 year from the prior scan.