Bone density scan for osteoporosis

A painless and simple type of X-ray to measure bone loss.

A bone density scan for osteoporosis - the condition of having fragile bones - is a painless and simple form of X-ray called a DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry). It measures possible bone loss.

DEXA scans look for signs of fragile bones and help assess your risk of developing fractures, while also sometimes being used to monitor the effects of treatment for osteoporosis.

A referral letter from a consultant or GP is required before booking any diagnostic investigation.

Why you might need it

Osteoporosis affects men and women of all ages, but is more common in older post-menopausal women because their oestrogen declines after the menopause, resulting in a decrease in bone density. If you are female, you might be advised to have a DEXA scan if you:

  • have broken a bone after a minor bump or fall
  • have a family history of hip fracture on your mother’s side
  • have a history of periods stopping for more than one year before the menopause
  • have taken steroid tablets for three months or more
  • are under 45 and have a hysterectomy or early menopause
  • have hip pain or knee pain
  • are underweight.

If you are male, you might be advised to have a scan if you have:

  • low levels of testosterone
  • a medical condition associated with osteoporosis such as rheumatoid arthritis or coeliac disease
  • have hip pain or knee pain
  • taken steroid tablets for three months or more.

If you develop osteoporosis, it can become very painful and limit you're what you are able to do physically and socially. (source: British Nutrition Foundation)

A DEXA scan is a very safe, quick and painless procedure but isn’t suitable for pregnant women due to the level of radiation.

Having this scan can identify the problem before it becomes worse so treatment can begin quickly.

DEXA scans are carried out as an outpatient procedure in the imaging or radiology department and usually take 10 to 15 minutes. You will be awake during the procedure but will also have to stay still.

We pride ourselves on our clinical excellence, you'll be looked after by an experienced multi-disciplinary care team.

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Who will do it?

Our patients are at the heart of what we do and we want you to be in control of your care. To us, that means you can choose the consultant you want to see, and when you want. They'll be with you every step of the way.

All of our consultants are of the highest calibre and benefit from working in our modern, well-equipped hospitals.

Our consultants have high standards to meet, often holding specialist NHS posts and delivering expertise in complex sub-specialty surgeries. Many of our consultants have international reputations for their research in their specialised field.

Before your treatment

You will need a referral letter from a consultant or GP before booking any diagnostic investigation.

You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.

We will also discuss with you whether any further diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests, are needed. Any additional costs will be discussed before further tests are carried out.

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Preparing for your treatment

We've tried to make your experience with us as easy and relaxed as possible.

For more information on visiting hours, our food, what to pack if you're staying with us, parking and all those other important practicalities, please visit our patient information pages.

Our dedicated team will also give you tailored advice to follow in the run up to your visit.

The procedure

We understand that having a procedure can often be a time of anxiety and worry, but our experienced and caring medical staff will be there for you, holding your hand, every step of the way.

DEXA scans are routinely done as an outpatient procedure in the imaging or radiology department. You will be asked to lie down on an X-ray table for 10-15 minutes while the machine’s scanning arm passes over you to take an image of the relevant area of your body. This will often be your spine or your hip. (source: National Osteoporosis Society). It’s important to lie very still during the test. The information is then sent to a computer for your doctor to study.

The dose of radiation used during a DEXA scan is much lower than that used during a normal X-ray so the risks are much lower.

You won’t need to be inside a tunnel or a ring for this procedure. You won’t even need to remove any clothing except metal fasteners, such as zips, hooks or buckles, and jewellery.


This is a relatively straightforward test and you can go straight home afterwards or as soon as you feel comfortable.

Your radiologist will study the scans taken, prepare a report and send the results to your doctor, which should take a few days. The results of the scan are given as a T-score between 0 to -2.5 and measures how your bone density compares with that of the normal average for healthy adults of your age, gender and ethnicity.

  • A T-score of 0 to -1 means you have normal bone density
  • A T-score of -1 to -2.5, you’re classed as having osteopenia. This means your bone density is lower than normal but you don't have osteoporosis
  • If you have a score below -2.5 , your are classed as having osteoporosis.

Looking after you

Even once you’ve left hospital, we’re still here for you. Your consultant is likely to want to see you after your scan, a follow up appointment will be made for you before you leave the hospital.

Your doctor will have looked at your results and if your T-score is low, this could mean that your bones are fragile and therefore more likely to fracture. They will suggest treatment options and discuss with you if you need more tests.

We take an integrated approach so we can organise any other care that you may need should your test results show you have osteoporosis.

If you have any questions or concerns about your recovery, we're ready to help.

Why choose Spire?

We are committed to delivering excellent individual care and customer service across our network of hospitals, clinics and specialist care centres around the UK. Our dedicated and highly trained team aim to achieve consistently excellent results. For us it's more than just treating patients, it's about looking after people.

Important to note

The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.

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