Bone mineral density of the radius was measured by single-photon absorptiometry in 50 patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Thirty-three had Crohn's disease and 17 ulcerative colitis; 25 were women. The mean age was 45 years (range, 18-70 years). Measurements were repeated in 39 of them after a mean follow-up period of 7.9 years (range, 7.1-8.2 years). In female patients the mean (95% confidence interval) annual change in radial bone mineral density was -0.74% (-1.34% to -0.14%) (P = 0.022), the greatest bone loss occurring in postmenopausal women (mean, -1.16% (-2.01% to -0.30%)). In male patients the mean annual rate of bone loss was -0.07% (-0.41% to 0.28%) (P = NS). Patients with abnormally low values at the first measurement remained osteopenic at the second measurement, whilst some others with normal values initially showed increased rates of bone loss and had a subnormal bone mineral density after the follow-up period. These results show increased rates of cortical bone loss in some patients with inflammatory bowel disease and emphasize the need to monitor bone mass in these patients so that prophylactic measures can be instituted.