Bone Density Scan

  • Medical Author:
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What about the accuracy of BMD testing in the doctor's office using smaller equipment?

There are several devices that are smaller than the standard DXA scanners that are being used in doctor's offices to screen for low bone density. Very little scientific data is available about these smaller units. Most of the information comes directly from the equipment manufacturers themselves. Many of these models test peripheral bones in the feet or hands. Other units use ultrasonography. These techniques can be less accurate than BMD testing performed with state of the art equipment. Additionally, office-testing equipment can range dramatically in price and quality.

In general, these devices may be reasonable to measure overall fracture risk but are not useful in monitoring therapy. Their use might be limited to screening and results would require confirmation using DXA. In addition, expertise in using the equipment and interpreting the data can vary. At present, it is difficult to comment on these other methods of BMD testing. Interpretation of the results of these tests may be more difficult and not as reliable as the standard DXA scan. Some doctors use these as screening tools and recommend more formal DXA testing if they are abnormal.


Osteoporosis is a disease that results in a significant risk of fracture. The consequences of fracture can include hospitalization, immobility, a decrease in the quality of life, and even death.

From a larger perspective, it is a costly disease in terms of the health-care system and time lost from work. Early detection and therapy is the mainstay for trying to prevent these complications. BMD testing results correlate well with the risk of fracture, and the testing is easily performed in a time-efficient manner without any discomfort. Although many methods of BMD testing exist, the best currently is DXA scanning. It is imperative that testing ultimately be done using state-of-the-art equipment with capable highly trained personnel and a doctor well versed in interpreting the results.


U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. "Screening for osteoporosis: recommendation statement." Am Fam Physician 83.10 May 15, 2011: 1197-1200.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/22/2016

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