Osteoporosis screening test proves interesting results

June 8, 2015

Topic: fragility fractures

Women who do not need to be screened for osteoporosis are and women who should be screened for the condition are being overlooked.

Women who do not need to be screened for osteoporosis are being examined while women who should be screened for the condition are being overlooked.

Researchers from the University of California-Davis found that physicians may not fully understand who is at risk of developing osteoporosis. These problematic practices could lead to a higher rate of fragility fractures in older populations. 

Osteoporosis occurs when the bones become very thin and brittle over time, leading to a higher risk for injury. Screenings can help detect low bone density, which may turn into osteoporosis. Usually, the screening will measure bone density in the hip and the spine. 

Knowing the difference
Most women are diagnosed with osteoporosis after they have turned 65. So, it would make sense to screen women for the condition around this age. However, women who have just turned 50 are being tested for the bone disease instead, according to the study's findings, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The only time women younger than 65 should be screened is when they have apparent risk factors, such as a small body frame or they have taken bone-thinning medication. If women are 50 and older and do not have risk factors, getting screened could be a waste of time and resources. 

Lead study author Anna Lee Amarnath came to these conclusions after studying the health records of almost 51,000 women. All of the women lived in the Sacramento, California, area and were between the ages of 40 and 85. She examined whether the women carried risk factors related to osteoporosis and whether they were given a screening called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, which shows whether the bones are strong or weak. The records extended over seven years.

Amarnath and her colleagues found that within that time frame, approximately 42 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 74 were not screened for osteoporosis, but they should have been. Women older than that were treated no better. About 57 percent of women over the age of 75 were not screened either. Instead, about 46 percent of women between the ages of 50 and 59 were screened for the condition by doctors. That percentage was even higher for women between the ages of 60 and 64 who did not have any risk factors. This group was screened 59 percent of the time.

Making the right call
The study authors believe that these findings suggest doctors might be overlooking those who need the screenings most. If the proper age groups were screened, the test could be very cost effective. They suggested that the results may have been caused by the confusion surrounding the proper screening recommendations. If doctors are unsure of what age patients should be screened at, they may screen them early just to be safe. Some doctors may also screen a woman after she enters menopause, believing that menopause and osteoporosis are associated. 

So what is the solution? The researchers suggested that doctors begin to use electronic health care records, which will inform them when they should screen a patient for osteoporosis. 

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