We investigated the relationship of CT determined vertebral bone mineral density (BMD), type of renal osteodystrophy, N terminal PTH levels and fracture history in 31 dialysis patients. BMD for patients with bone biopsy documented osteitis fibrosa was 1.6 standard deviation (SD) above the normal value for age and sex matched controls, while those patients with low turnover osteodystrophy had a mean BMD 1.2 SD below normal (p less than 0.0001). Three patients with osteitis fibrosa who had previously been treated with prednisone had a low BMD (1.8 SD below normal, different than O, p = 0.0015). There was no correlation between BMD and time on dialysis (r = 0.1). An N terminal PTH level greater than 150 pg/ml was a sensitive (94%) and specific (100%) method of separating those patients with osteitis fibrosa from those with low turnover osteodystrophy, while BMD was much less useful in this differentiation. A low BMD was not predictive of fracture history but the type of renal osteodystrophy was. Patients with low turnover osteodystrophy had a fracture rate of 0.2 fractures/dialysis year in comparison to those with osteitis fibrosis who had 0.1 fractures/dialysis year. Patients with the former bone disease fractured mainly axial rather than appendicular bones in contrast to those patients with osteitis fibrosa. In conclusion we found that patients with osteitis fibrosa had increased BMD compared to normal while those with low turnover osteodystrophy had decreased BMD, but that the N terminal PTH level was a better predictor of the type of bone disease present than was BMD.