Bone Nuclear Medicine

Expert imaging to support bone health

Bone Nuclear Medicine at Beverly Hospital

Bone density scans, a type of nuclear imaging, are used to support bone health. They are also called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans. At Beverly Hospital, our imaging specialists offer bone density scans to diagnose a range of conditions affecting your bones.

Why Is a Bone Density Scan Performed?

Bone density scans are often used to diagnose osteoporosis. Osteoporosis involves a gradual loss of calcium in the bones, affecting their density. Low bone density causes bones to become thinner, more fragile and more likely to break.

A bone density scan is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis. The scan also helps you and your health care provider:

  • Confirm if you have osteoporosis after you break a bone
  • Learn if you have weak bones or osteoporosis before you break a bone
  • Predict your chance of breaking a bone in the future
  • See if your bone health is improving, getting worse or staying the same with treatment

Who Should Have a Bone Density Scan?

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that these people have a bone density scan:

  • People who experience broken bones after age 50
  • Men who are:
    • 70 years of age and older
    • Age 50–69 years with certain risk factors
  • Women who are:
    • 65 years of age and older
    • Of menopausal age with certain risk factors
    • Postmenopausal and under age 65 with certain risk factors

A bone density test also may be necessary if you have any of the following:

  • Back pain with a possible break in your spine
  • Breaks or bone loss in your spine
  • Height loss of ½ inch or more within one year
  • Total height loss of 1½ inches from your original adult height

What to Expect

How to Prepare for a Bone Density Scan

For at least 24 hours before your scan, don’t take calcium supplements. You should wear loose, comfortable clothes with no zippers, belts or metal buttons. These are the only ways you need to prepare for a bone density scan.

Tell your doctor if any of these apply to you, otherwise you may have to wait before having a bone density scan:

  • You recently had a computed tomography (CT) scan or radioisotope scan with contrast material
  • You recently had a radiology exam with barium
  • You might be pregnant
What to Expect During a Bone Density Scan

Before your scan, a technologist will inject a radiotracer into your vein. A radiotracer is a compound that contains radioactive material. The amount of radiation you are exposed to is extremely small, less than the dose of a standard chest X-ray.

The radiotracer acts like calcium, which is absorbed by your bones. Once absorbed, the radiotracer releases energy that is detected by a special camera. This helps create images showing any area where too much or too little of the radiotracer has been absorbed, indicating abnormalities. 

For most scans, you’ll be asked to wait two to four hours after receiving your radiotracer before any images are taken. Images may be taken during the injection of the radiotracer if your doctor thinks you have an infection.

You’ll be allowed to leave and return at an agreed upon time. You may spend the time in our waiting room, or you may leave the hospital. While you wait, you’ll need to drink four, eight-ounce servings of liquid. You should try urinating frequently to eliminate any excess tracer from your body.

During the scan, the technologist will ask you to lie on your back on the exam table. The exam table is positioned between a set of cameras. The imaging process usually lasts 30 minutes to one hour. It is important that you remain still while the cameras are on. Movement can affect the images.

Because patient care is our top priority, we use equipment and quality control to ensure that we are safely producing high-quality images.

What to Expect After a Bone Density Scan

You may return to your regular activities after the scan is complete. Your doctor will receive your scan results in 24–48 hours. They will discuss your results with you.