DEXA is short for'dual energy X-ray absorptiometry' which is a fancy name for a type of scan that uses mild X-rays to measure how dense bone is. The density of bone helps determine how strong the bone is. The lower the density, the weaker the bone is considered to be. The DEXA scan can be used to diagnose conditions known as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when bone density is significantly lower than the normal range for your age and gender, and the bones are therefore at a higher risk of breaking easily. Osteopenia is a milder form of this with just a slightly lower than normal bone density.
You may be referred for a DEXA scan if you have risk factors for developing osteoporosis or if you have had a bone that broke easily. For the scan, you will lie on your back on an X-ray bed and the DEXA scanner arm comes above you. You will be asked to remove any metal you may be wearing as this can obscure the scanning. A DEXA scan does not hurt and takes around 20 minutes to complete.
A DEXA scan does expose you to a small amount of radiation but it is very small in comparison to other types of scans such as a CT scan. The amount of radiation is so small that it does not put you at any significantly higher of developing problems in the future such as radiation-associated cancers. DEXA scans are however not recommended in people who are pregnant.