Frequency of bone-density testing in older women


Osteoporosis is a condition that leads to the bones being weakened and a heightened likelihood for fractures. Millions of people across the US are already suffering from osteoporosis or are now exposed to greater risk for fractures because of their BMD (bone mineral density) being much less than usual, which means they are suffering from osteopenia.

Osteoporosis usually progresses silently and slowly with no symptoms until one sees a fracture happen. However, early screening can identify if the bone density is low, following which therapies and lifestyle changes can help lessen the fractures risk and even remove any issues related to bone density. Therefore, current osteoporosis management guidelines recommend routine bone mineral density (BMD) test for women 65 years of age or older. But there is no enough data to specify how often to undergo the test.

To help clinicians decide on the intervals for BMD testing in women in whose initial assessment osteoporosis doesn’t show up, a study analyzed data on a total of 4957 women, aged 67 or older, and followed prospectively for up to 15 years.

Based on their original bone density test, the study participants were divided into 4 groups: advanced, moderate, normal, or mild osteopenia. The women were given two to five BMD tests at varying intervals during the study period.

The study report showed results that were suggestive that < 1% of women with regular bone mineral density progressed to developing osteoporosis during the study period. Only 5% who had somewhat low bone density initially went on to have osteoporosis. This suggests that women from these two categories need not be re-screened for around 15 years as they are likely to be safe until then. That’s a great news for this category of women.

However, the data shows that 10% (1 out of 10 women) with moderate osteopenia during their initial assessment made transition to osteoporosis in a span of 5 years. And for women with advanced osteopenia initially, around 10% got osteoporosis in a matter of a year, indicating that this group needed the 1-year screening intervals.

This study report also suggests that frequency of screening may also be influenced by other risk factors, including age, specific diseases, or medications.