DXA Scan: A Guide for Parents

DXA scanner

DXA 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 shots or medicines 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 child prepare for the DXA scan?

  • Appointments are usually scheduled at least 14 days after having any procedure that involves contrast materials (for example, a CT Scan with contrast dye).
  • Your teen should NOT eat foods high in calcium for 3-4 hours before their DXA scan. These foods include: milk, cheese, yogurt, and dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Your teen should NOT take calcium supplements, vitamins, or TUMS® the day of their scan.
  • Your teen should wear comfortable clothing (including undergarments) without metal buttons, hooks, snaps, or zippers because metal interferes with this test. If the clothing they wear to the appointment will interfere with the scan, they will be given a hospital gown to put on.
  • Your teen should remove any jewelry and all piercings (if possible) and leave them at home. If they can’t remove a piercing near the scan site, tell their provider when you first arrive to the appointment.
  • Your teen may drink water and other CLEAR liquids before the scan.
  • Your teen may take any regular medicine well before the exam (if their health care provider agrees).

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 before the DXA scan?

  1. The technician will ask your teen questions about their medical history and explain the procedure.
  2. Your teen will have their height and weight measured. A routine pregnancy test is done in most hospitals on all menstruating teens or teens over the age of 12 years old.
  3. The technician will explain what to expect and answer any questions you may have.

What happens during the DXA scan?

  1. Your teen will be positioned on the table according to the type of scan they will be having.
  2. They will be asked to stay still and not talk during the entire scan, but they should breathe normally.
  3. A machine shaped like an upside down “L” will slowly move back and forth over your teen’s body to measure the bone density of their total body, spine, and/or hips. The machine will not touch their body.

Should I be concerned about the amount of radiation my child 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 child’s DXA scan?

Results are not typically available on the day of your teen’s appointment. The DXA scan must be carefully reviewed by the technologist and a doctor specializing 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 their next appointment. If needed, a follow-up scan will be done no sooner than 1 year from the prior scan.