What a DEXA scan can tell you about your bone health and longevity

As we age, the health of our bones often takes a backseat in our minds. Unlike muscles that visibly lose strength or skin that shows signs of aging, our bones quietly undergo changes that can have profound impacts on our well-being. Bone loss can progress unnoticed, as we don’t have X-ray vision to see the silent deterioration within our skeleton. Without intervention, this gradual decline can lead to an increased risk of fractures and significantly affect our ability to perform everyday activities, from walking and bending to carrying groceries.

Early detection and prevention are crucial, and that’s where a DEXA scan, the gold standard for measuring bone mineral density, comes into play. This painless, non-invasive test can reveal the hidden truths about our bone health, empowering us to take action to preserve our strength and independence as we grow older.

Read more to get a closer look at what a DEXA scan can reveal about your bone health.

What is a DEXA scan?

A DEXA scan, or Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, is a non-invasive medical test that provides detailed insights into your bone health, crucial for enhancing longevity and quality of life. Renowned as the gold standard for measuring bone mineral density (BMD), this scan reveals the levels of calcium and other minerals in your bones.

By accurately assessing BMD, a DEXA scan can detect early signs of bone loss, diagnose osteoporosis, and evaluate your fracture risk. This essential test helps in preventing osteoporosis and fractures, empowering you and your healthcare provider to take proactive steps toward maintaining strong, healthy bones and ensuring a longer, more active life.

Measuring bone mineral density

The technology behind a DEXA scan, or Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, is both advanced and precise, allowing for accurate measurement of bone mineral density (BMD). During the scan, two low-dose X-ray beams are directed at the bones, typically targeting key areas such as the spine, hip, and sometimes the forearm. These regions are chosen because they are common sites for fractures in people with low bone density. The scan takes just a few minutes and is painless, with the differing absorption rates of the X-rays by bone and soft tissue enabling the calculation of BMD.

The data collected is then compared to age-matched norms, known as Z-scores, and young healthy adult norms, known as T-scores. These comparisons help determine if your bone density falls within the normal range or indicates conditions like osteopenia or osteoporosis. The next section will go through how common conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis are diagnosed using these results.

Diagnosing osteopenia and osteoporosis

Diagnosing osteopenia and osteoporosis is critical in understanding and managing your bone health, especially as we aim for longevity and an active lifestyle. Osteoporosis is a condition characterised by weakened bones and a heightened risk of fractures, while osteopenia refers to bone density that is lower than normal but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), approximately 924,000 people in Australia were reported to have osteoporosis in 2017-2018, highlighting the prevalence of this condition. Moreover, 29% of the burden from falls in that same period was attributed to low bone density, emphasizing the critical role bone health plays in preventing fractures.

A DEXA scan is the gold standard for diagnosing these conditions by measuring bone mineral density (BMD). The scan results provide two key scores: the T-score and the Z-score.

T-score: This score compares your BMD to that of a healthy young adult. A T-score of:

      • 2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis, signifying severe bone loss and a high risk of fractures.

      • Between -1 and -2.5 suggests osteopenia, indicating reduced bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis if not managed.

      • Above -1 is considered normal bone density, reflecting healthy bones.

    Z-score: This score compares your BMD to that of others in your age and sex group. A Z-score between -2 and +2 is considered within the normal range. Deviation from this range may prompt further investigation into other potential causes of bone loss.

    Risk factors for both osteopenia and osteoporosis include age, hormonal changes (such as menopause), a family history of bone disease, low body weight, and certain lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a diet low in calcium and vitamin D. Prolonged use of corticosteroids and certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also contribute to weakened bones.

    Diagnosing osteopenia and osteoporosis with a DEXA scan allows for timely interventions to prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. In the next section, we will delve into how these scan results are interpreted by healthcare professionals to guide treatment and lifestyle changes for better bone health and longevity.

    Assessing fracture risk and its importance for longevity

    Assessing fracture risk is a critical step in ensuring a long, healthy, and active life. A DEXA scan provides detailed insights into your bone density, which, when combined with your medical history and lifestyle factors, helps healthcare professionals accurately determine your risk of fractures. Age, gender, history of fractures, and habits like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, or lack of physical activity significantly influence this risk.

    Fractures are not just painful; they can drastically affect your ability to carry out daily activities and diminish your quality of life. For example, a simple fall for someone with low bone density can lead to serious fractures of the hip or spine, which may require extensive recovery and can reduce independence. Data shows that hip fractures, in particular are associated with increased mortality and long-term care needs. Studies indicate that one in three adults aged 50 and older dies within 12 months of suffering a hip fracture.

    But it’s not only older adults who should be considering a DEXA scan. Women approaching or going through menopause should be particularly vigilant, as hormonal changes can accelerate bone loss. Additionally, individuals with a family history of osteoporosis, those with chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, or people taking medications such as corticosteroids that affect bone health should prioritize bone density testing.

    Athletes, especially those with a history of stress fractures or those engaged in sports that promote lean body mass, should also consider regular DEXA scans to monitor bone health. People with eating disorders or nutritional deficiencies, such as low calcium or vitamin D intake, are at heightened risk for low bone density and should be proactive in assessing their bone health.

    Understanding your fracture risk is essential for taking preventive actions that support bone health and overall longevity. With a comprehensive assessment that includes a DEXA scan, doctors can recommend interventions tailored to your needs, such as dietary adjustments, exercise routines to strengthen bones and improve balance, or medical treatments to enhance bone density. By addressing these risks early, you can help maintain mobility, independence, and a high quality of life, supporting a healthier, more active future.

    Monitoring bone health over time

    For individuals diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, regular DEXA scans may become part of the routine to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. This can assist in comparing results from previous scans to track changes in bone density over time.

    Although it may seem inconvenient, undergoing routine scans is crucial for monitoring health and treatment effectiveness. It allows for adjustments in treatment plans if needed, ensuring optimal management of bone health and overall well-being. If treatments are not yielding the desired results, adjustments can be made to develop a more effective plan tailored to individual needs.

    Treatments to Improve bone mineral density

    Improving bone mineral density is achievable through a combination of treatments guided by healthcare professionals specialising in bone health. Your healthcare team may include a doctor, dietitian, and exercise physiologist, each playing a crucial role in enhancing your bone strength and overall health.

    Medical approaches:

    Doctors may prescribe medications such as bisphosphonates to slow bone loss and reduce fracture risk in individuals with osteoporosis. These medications work by inhibiting bone breakdown and promoting bone formation, helping to strengthen bones over time.

    Nutritional support:

    Dietitians play a key role in recommending dietary changes to support bone health. Increasing calcium and vitamin D intake through foods like dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified cereals, or through supplements, if necessary, is essential for maintaining strong bones.

    Physical activity:

    Exercise physiologists focus on designing exercise programs that promote bone health. Regular strength training and weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, dancing, or resistance training with weights, help stimulate bone growth and maintain bone density. These activities also improve balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls and fractures.

    Lifestyle modifications:

    Quitting smoking is critical for bone health, as smoking has detrimental effects on bone density and overall health. By quitting smoking, individuals can protect their bones and improve their overall well-being.

    By integrating these treatments into your lifestyle under the guidance of knowledgeable healthcare professionals, you can actively improve your bone health and enhance your longevity.

    Get scanned for a stronger and longer future!

    A DEXA scan is a valuable tool for assessing, diagnosing, treating, and monitoring bone health. Having a clear picture of what your bone density looks like can empower you and your healthcare provider to take proactive steps. If you are concerned about your bone health or have risk factors for osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about whether a DEXA scan is right for you. Here at Oracle Healthcare, we offer DEXA scans and comprehensive bone health services to help you maintain strong bones for a healthy and active life. Book your appointment with us today.


    National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 2020. Osteoporosis. Available from

    Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Hip Fractures Among Older Adults. Available from

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