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  • A DEXA scan is a type of X-ray that measures bone mineral density (BMD). A DEXA scan provides information about your child’s bone strength or fragility and the risk of fractures or broken bones.

    Why does my child need a DEXA scan?

    Your child may be referred for a DEXA scan if they have:

    • A medical reason that could weaken their bones,
    • Had a recent fracture after a minor injury, or
    • Had an X-ray that demonstrated bone loss (osteopenia)

    What to expect with a DEXA scan

    Preparing for the DEXA

    Your child may be asked to change into a hospital gown before the DEXA exam. If they would prefer not to wear the hospital gown, wearing a plain T-shirt and shorts or leggings may be OK. Articles of clothing may have to be removed if they contain decoration, metal, glitter, thick elastic, string ties or plastic that may show up on the DEXA images and make important body structures difficult to see. We have a ceiling hoist for patients who require a hoist for transfer from their wheelchair to the DEXA bed. Your child’s height and weight will be recorded.

    During the DEXA

    For all examinations, a family member or carer is encouraged to stay with your child to help them feel comfortable about the procedure and to help them to remain still.

    The time it takes to perform the DEXA examination depends on how many areas are required to scan, (usually lumbar spine, right hip and whole body), but it may be as long as 30 minutes:

    • Spine: scan can take up to five minutes and your child will by lying on their back on the bed with legs up resting on a large rectangle cushion.
    • Hip: scan can take up to five minutes and your child will by lying on their back on the bed with feet turned in and secured
    • Forearm: scan can take up to five minutes and your child will by lying on their back on the bed.
    • Whole Body: scan can take up to eight minutes and your child will by lying on  their back on the bed.
    • DEXA + pQCT: this involves normal DEXA study plus scans of the forearm and femur therefore the length of this procedure ranges from thirty minutes up to one hour.

    After the DEXA

    A report will be prepared by an Endocrinologist and sent to the referring doctor. The report is usually available within a week but can be received earlier if required. If you have any questions about why your child needs a DEXA, or questions about the results of your DEXA, please speak to your doctor. 

    Key points to remember

    • X-rays pass through different tissues in the body to create an image
    • Having a DEXA does not hurt, however your child will need to remain still while the image is being taken
    • A family member or carer is encouraged to stay with their child during their DEXA scan

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    My child is anxious about medical procedures and I am worried they won't remain still for the DEXA study. How can I help?

    To get some ideas of how to talk to your child about the scan before you come to hospital, see our fact sheet. Also consider showing your child our ‘Be Positive’ videos of children having procedures at The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH). Seeing the videos may help them by knowing what to expect. You can also download our Okee in Medical Imaging app, which includes games and information especially designed to help children feel more comfortable about having medical imaging at RCH.

    How safe are DEXA scans for children? If my child needs more than one DEXA is this dangerous?

    All medical imaging procedures at RCH have been justified by a Radiologist or Specialist before the exam is performed. All imaging procedures are optimised – each study is performed with the aim to provide the highest quality imaging with the lowest radiation dose to each child.

    For more information on radiation, please see the Australian Government fact sheet: Ionising Radiation and Health, or speak to your DEXA technologist.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Medical Imaging department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed November 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.