Text Size: A A A

Bone Mineral Density (BMD) Measurement

Peer Reviewed

A bone bineral bensity (BMD) test is also referred to as bone densitometry. BMD is an important diagnostic tool that not only measures the amount of calcium in certain bones - but is also used to estimate fracture risk. Testing is easy, fast, painless, and non-invasive.

Although a bone mineral density test is not recommended for all women and men, testing may be considered when:

  • an x-ray reveals low bone mass, osteopenia or possibly osteoporosis
  • menopause occurs prior to age 45 and the patient is not taking estrogen (eg, Estrogen Replacement Therapy, ERT). You can also read this recommended article on menopause and osteoporosis.
  • a woman is age 65 or older
  • a post-menopausal woman who sustains a fracture (any type)
  • a family history of osteoporosis
  • steroids have been (or are) taken regularly
  • presence of hyperthyroidism, diabetes, liver/kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis

bone mineral density
DXA Scan of the Hip

Different types of machines are used to measure bone density in the hip, spine, or other parts of the body (eg, heel, finger, wrist). A radiologist reads and compares the results to normal values and prepares a report for the referring physician. The physician bases treatment recommendations on the results of the bone density test score and patient's medical history.

Measuring Hip or Spine Bone Density

  • Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry or DXA measures bone density in the hip or spine. This common test requires no patient preparation and takes about 15 minutes.
  • Quantitative Computed Tomography or QCT accurately measures bone density in the spine or hip.


Measuring Bone Density in the Heel or Wrist

  • Peripheral Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry or pDXA
  • Peripheral Quantitative Computed Tomography or pQCT
  • Quantitative Ultrasound or QUS
  • Single Energy X-ray Absorptiometry or SXA

bone density test

DXA Scan of the Spine

The bone density score determines if the patient has osteopenia (low bone mass) or osteoporosis. A woman's bone mass peaks around age 35 and levels off during menopause. Bone density declines sharply during the first years of menopause. A DXA scan can detect even a 1% loss of bone mass! A BMD can be critical to a woman's health later in life when the risk of fracture increases.

Updated on: 11/03/10
Rick C. Sasso, MD
Imaging studies are simply a tool for your doctor to use in helping to define the cause of your problem. Rarely will the study by itself make the diagnosis. It must be viewed in the context of the history and physical examination of the patient.
Continue Reading:

Bone Scan

A bone scan is an imaging test that detects increased activity in bone. The results help to diagnose fractures, infections, inflammation, and tumors.
Read More