Pediatric Bone Density Test (DEXA)
A pediatric bone density test is a medical imaging test that measures the health of your child’s bones. At Children’s Health, our pediatric specialists carefully evaluate the results to identify your child’s risk for fragile bones or fractures (bone breaks). Texas families rely on our experienced team for more than 300 pediatric bone density tests every year – a high number that means you can rely on our expertise.
What is a Pediatric Bone Density Test?
A pediatric bone density test measures levels of calcium and other minerals in specific bones in your child’s body. The test’s full name is bone densitometry by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Sometimes it’s simply called a bone scan or bone densitometry testing.
Our team tailors your child’s bone density test to their age and condition. We use special scanners and X-rays to take pictures of your child’s spine and whole body. DEXA results give our team detailed information about the strength of your child’s bones. This information helps us understand your child’s medical condition or how medications are affecting your child’s bones.
What are the benefits of a Pediatric Bone Density Test?
A bone scan can help us predict the risk of future bone fractures or tell us how treatments are working. Children might need a bone density test if they have conditions such as:
- Conditions that prevent children from bearing weight, such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
- Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia
- Hypophosphatasia (HPP), a metabolism disorder that can soften or weaken bones
- Kidney (renal) disease
- Nutritional and genetic forms of osteomalacia (rickets)
- Osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that can affect bone formation
- Osteopetrosis (marble bone disease), a condition that causes dense, easily broken bones
- Osteoporosis (brittle bones) or osteopenia (bone weakness)
- Problems with absorbing nutrients
- Rheumatological conditions
What are the side effects of a Pediatric Bone Density Test?
Bone density tests are very safe. They do not have any known side effects.
What are the risks of a Pediatric Bone Density Test?
A bone density scan is a safe test with very little risk. It uses much less radiation than a regular X-ray.
What to expect with a Pediatric Bone Density Test
The whole DEXA scan takes about 30 minutes. You’ll want to let your child know that they will need to lie very still so the doctors can get good pictures of their bones.
What to expect before a Pediatric Bone Density Test
There are a few restrictions regarding when and how we perform a bone density scan. Speak to us before scheduling a scan if your child or teen:
- Has metal rods or other implants in their body: We cannot scan those areas of the body.
- Has had a barium X-ray within 10 days: We’ll need to reschedule the bone density scan to a later date.
- Could possibly be pregnant: We conduct a urine test to rule out pregnancy for female patients who are older than age 10 or have begun menstruation. A DEXA scan might not be safe for a fetus.
What to expect during a Pediatric Bone Density Test
Your child lies on their back on a soft X-ray table. We prop up their legs so we can get clear pictures of their spine.
They need to lie still while a technician takes the images. One machine moves over their body and another moves under them. They can hear and talk to the technician during the test. The technician may ask them to hold their breath for a short time to get the clearest pictures.
We often scan two types of bone to get a complete sense of your child’s bone health. We look at spongy bones in your child’s spine and hip and compact bone in your child’s forearm. For this testing, the technician will gently move your child’s foot or arm into different positions.
What to expect after a Pediatric Bone Density Test
When the exam is done, your child can go back to their usual activities and diet.
Doctors compare your child’s results to averages for typical children who are about the same age, sex and body size. This analysis tells your child’s medical team how well your child is growing, how sturdy their bones are and how well treatment is working.
How do I prepare my child for a Pediatric Bone Density Test?
The DEXA scan doesn’t require any special preparation. Your child should wear comfortable clothes without any metal (such as zippers or snaps). They may be able to wear their own clothes during the test, or the technician might ask them to change into a gown.
What is my child allowed to eat and drink before a Pediatric Bone Density Test?
Most children can eat and drink as usual before the test. Your doctor might tell your child to stop taking calcium supplements for 24 to 48 hours before the test.
What questions should I ask my provider about a Pediatric Bone Density Test?
You may want to ask your child’s health care providers:
- Which medical experts review my child’s bone density test results?
- How do you evaluate my child’s test results to ensure they are accurate for them and their condition?
- What medications should my child stop taking before the bone scan?
- Will my child need additional tests after the bone scan?
- How often will my child need DEXA scans?
Pediatric Bone Density Test (DEXA) Doctors and Providers
Mouin Seikaly, MD Pediatric Nephrologist
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the radioactivity from a Pediatric Bone Density Test safe?
A DEXA test uses a very low amount of radiation. Doctors agree that the benefits of a bone density test outweigh the risks. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
What will my child feel during a Pediatric Bone Density Exam?
The bone density scan is painless. Your child might hear some sounds like humming, but the test isn’t noisy.
For a very short time during the scan, we may need to move your child into a position that’s a little bit uncomfortable. Our team works hard to keep your child as comfortable as possible.
When will we receive the Pediatric Bone Density Test results?
Most families receive their results in one to two weeks. Our doctors carefully review your child’s results and their individual condition to provide a thorough assessment. We’ll meet with you to discuss the results and talk about the next steps for your child’s care.