A bone mineral density test (BMD) is a type of imaging test that measures the mineral content of your bones. It is used to determine if you are at risk for developing osteoporosis, which is a condition marked by weak, brittle bones.

The test is usually done using a machine called a DEXA scanner, which safely measures the amount of calcium and other minerals in your bones. The results of the test are then analysed and compared to the average density of other healthy adults in your age group.

If your BMD is lower than average, it may indicate that you are at risk for developing osteoporosis. The BMD test is a safe, reliable way to determine if you need to take steps to increase your bone health and reduce the your of developing osteoporosis.

Who Should Get a Bone Mineral Density Test?

A bone mineral density test is typically recommended for women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70.

However, it can also be recommended for younger adults with certain risk factors, such as family history of osteoporosis, low body weight, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and a sedentary lifestyle.

The test is also recommended for people who take medications that can their weaken bones, such as steroids.

Refer to the following list and see if you fit into any of the one or more:

  • Woman aged 65 or older
  • Postmenopausal woman at 50 or older
  • Woman at the age of menopause and has a high chance for breaking bones
  • Woman who has already been through menopause, younger than 65, and has other things that give a higher chance of osteoporosis
  • Man 50 or older with other risk factors
  • Breaking a bone after 50
  • Losing more than 1.5 inches of adult height
  • Posture has gotten more hunched
  • Having back pain without any cause
  • Periods have stopped or are irregular although not pregnant or menopausal
  • Having gotten an organ transplant
  • Having a drop in hormone levels.

Data source: WebMD.

How is a Bone Mineral Density Test Performed?

The bone mineral density test is performed using a specialised machine called a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scanner.

During the test, the patient lies down on a table, and an X-ray beam is passed over the bones of his/her hip and spine mainly. The DEXA scanner measures the amount of X-rays that pass through each area and calculates the bone density based on that information.

The results are then compared to a range of “normal” values for someone of the same age and sex, which helps determine if the patient has osteoporosis or other bone-weakening diseases.

Types of Bone Density Tests

Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA)

Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is a medical imaging technique that is used to measure bone mineral density (BMD). It is considered the gold standard for measuring BMD and is used to diagnose conditions such as osteoporosis.

The procedure is quick and painless, and utilises two X-ray beams of different energy levels to generate images of the bones. The DXA scanner then measures the amount of energy that is absorbed by the bones and calculates the BMD. The results are then used to evaluate the patient’s risk for fractures or other complications due to osteoporosis.

DXA is an effective and reliable tool for diagnosing and monitoring osteoporosis, and can help doctors develop appropriate treatment plans for patients.

Peripheral Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (pDXA)

Peripheral Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (pDXA) is a type of bone mineral density test that measures bone density in the spine, hip, wrist, lower arm, heel and fingers. This test is similar to the traditional DEXA, which measures bone density in the hip and spine, but pDXA uses a smaller and more portable device that can be carried across to be used in a doctor’s clinic.

It is also used to measure fat and muscle mass, as well as other soft tissue composition. The results of a pDXA scan can help doctors make informed decisions about treatment and prevention of osteoporosis and other bone-related conditions.

How to Interpret the Results of a Bone Mineral Density Test?

The bone mineral density test results are usually reported in two ways: T-score and Z-score.


The T-score compares your bone density to that of a healthy young adult of your gender.

A T-score of -1.0 or higher is considered normal, while a T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 indicates low bone density (osteopenia) and a T-score of -2.5 or lower indicates osteoporosis.


The Z-score, on the other hand, compares your bone density to that of people of your age, gender and body size.

A Z-score of -2.0 or lower is considered below the expected range for your age, gender and body size.

Based on your BMD test results, your doctor can determine your risk for fractures and recommend appropriate treatment, if necessary.

While BMD tests are largely precise and accurate, your doctor may also take into account other factors such as your medical history, lifestyle and medications for a proper diagnosis.

What Affects Your Bone Mineral Density

Several factors can affect your bone mineral density, including age, gender, genetics, lack of nutrition, lack of exercise, certain medical conditions and certain medications.

Here is a comprehensive list of factors in detail that can contribute to your bone loss.

  • Age: As you age, your bones naturally lose density and become weaker.
  • Gender: Women are at higher risk of osteoporosis due to decreased estrogen levels after menopause. Men can also experience bone loss, especially if they have low testosterone levels.
  • Genetics: A family history of osteoporosis can increase your risk of developing the condition.
  • Nutrition: Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake are essential for strong bones. A diet lacking in these nutrients can contribute to your bone loss.
  • Exercise: Weight-bearing and resistance exercises can help strengthen bones and slow down bone loss. Any lack of required exercise can lead to bone loss
  • Medical conditions and medications: Certain conditions such as hyperthyroidism and some medications like glucocorticoids can increase the risk of bone loss.
  • Smoking: Smoking can negatively impact bone health and increase the risk of fractures.
  • Alcohol consumption: Heavy alcohol consumption can decrease bone density and increase the risk of fractures.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium in your body. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to weakened bones.
  • Calcium intake: Calcium is essential for your strong bones. Inadequate calcium intake can lead to weakened bones.

If at any point you feel that you need to get a bone mineral density test, consult your doctor promptly for an early diagnosis.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Bone Health?

There are several steps you can take to improve your bone health. We’re listing out the important ones for you:

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids , such as dairy products, dark leafy greens and fatty fish.
  • Exercise regularly, especially weight-bearing activities like running, jumping and strength training.
  • Get enough sleep to allow your body to rest and recover.
  • Limit your alcohol intake and don’t smoke.
  • Take bone-strengthening supplements, such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, but only on the advice of your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications that can help strengthen your bones, such as bisphosphonates.
  • Manage medical conditions that affect your bone health, such as hyperthyroidism and celiac disease.

If you feel you’re at risk of osteoporosis, consult your doctor about getting your bone mineral density test done.


A bone mineral density test is a simple and effective way to assess your bone health and detect any early signs of bone loss.

Once your risk for fractures are identified, you can take appropriate steps to prevent and manage osteoporosis.

As part of preventive healthcare, a bone mineral density test is an essential tool in preventing and managing osteoporosis.


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Sources: Mayo Clinic, MedlinePlus, WebMD, Healthline, Johns Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic, NHS, Maya Physio, NCBI (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), NIH, Frontiers, NIAAA, ScienceDirect, Medical News Today.