by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Bone density tests can find osteoporosis. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect osteoporosis or think you’re at a high risk for it. If so, tests may include:

Bone mineral density (BMD) measures your bone mass. Then, it’s compared to a healthy 30 year old adult. It may also be compared to the normal bone mass of someone your age. This is called a Z score. BMD results let you know if your bone density is in a normal range or not.

The doctor will consider your test results and other factors that raise your risk. If needed, a plan to prevent or treat the disease is made.

The types of BMD test used depends on the reason you need it.

Diagnostic tests to measure bone density:

If these tests aren’t available, screening tests can be used. But, they should not be used to make a diagnosis or to follow the course of treatment.

Screening tests to measure bone density:

  • Central DXA or peripheral DXA —measures at outer sites such as wrist, heel, or finger
  • Quantitative ultrasound (QUS) —sound waves measure the heel, shinbone, and kneecap
  • Central or peripheral QCT —measures at the lower arm, wrist, finger or heel

Blood and urine tests —To test levels of calcium and vitamin D. Other substances are made when bone is formed or broken down. These can also be tested. The results can tell how fast the body is breaking down the bone.

Bone biopsy —Done in certain cases to check for other causes of bone disease.


Bone density exam/testing. National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 23, 2018.

Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  . Updated February 1, 2018. Accessed June 23, 2018.

Osteoporosis. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: Updated August 2009. Accessed June 23, 2018.

Osteoporosis overview. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center website. Available at: Updated February 2017. Accessed June 23, 2018.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2018
  • Update Date: 06/23/2018