A bone mineral density (BMD) test evaluates your bone health. It measures how much calcium and other minerals your bones have. Healthcare providers use test results to determine your risk of fracturing a bone. They also may use these tests to diagnose osteoporosis. All women and females over 65 should get regular BMD tests.
A bone mineral density (BMD) test is a scan to evaluate your bone health. Bone formation and destruction continues throughout your life. As you age, the rate of bone destruction may be higher than the rate of formation. This can decrease bone density and make bone porous and weak, leading to a disorder called osteoporosis. Having weak bone can increase the risk of bone fracture even with a minor fall. BMD measures the strength of your bone.
The most common type of BMD test uses X-rays. These BMD tests are called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) tests. DEXA scans use small, safe doses of radiation to look at your bones. You may also have a vertebral fracture assessment (VFA) along with a DEXA test. A VFA checks your spine for fractures.
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Your healthcare provider may check your bone density to:
Experts recommend BMD tests for:
Factors that can increase your risk of bone fractures include:
No matter your age, sex or fracture risk, your healthcare provider may also recommend a bone density test if you have:
A healthcare provider who specializes in taking and interpreting medical images (radiologist) performs a BMD test.
A BMD test sends low doses of radiation to your bones. These radiation doses calculate how much calcium and other minerals you have in each segment of bone. This calculation is called bone density.
Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions to prepare for a BMD test.
Generally, you avoid taking any calcium supplements for 24 hours before the test. You also need to wear loose, comfortable clothing and avoid wearing items with metal zippers, buttons or belts. Remove all jewelry, eyeglasses, removable dental work or other objects that contain metal.
Tell your healthcare provider if you have a joint or dental implant. Typically, you can still have a BMD test if you have a permanent implant.
BMD tests are outpatient tests, meaning you go home the same day. During the test:
The test usually takes around 10 to 30 minutes. If you have a VFA along with a DEXA, your test may last a few minutes longer.
You may not be able to have a BMD test if you:
Typically, it takes one to two weeks to get the results of your BMD test.
After the test, a radiologist interprets your imaging scans. The radiologist sends the results to your primary care or referring provider. Your primary care or referring provider reviews the results of the tests with you.
Your healthcare provider compares the results of your BMD test with the average bone density of a young, healthy adult. They calculate a number called a T score to assess your bone density. A T score of:
If your BMD test shows osteoporosis, your healthcare provider will offer treatment options. Many people can improve their overall bone health and manage osteoporosis by:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A bone mineral density test is an assessment of your bone health. It measures the calcium and other minerals in your bones. How much calcium you have determines your risk of fracturing a bone or developing osteoporosis. Healthcare providers may also use BMD tests to diagnose osteoporosis. BMD tests are noninvasive, outpatient tests, meaning you don’t need injections for the test and you can go home the same day.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/17/2023.
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