Predicting Osteoporosis Through a Few Questions

Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do to find out if you have osteoporosis is answer a few simple questions? No testing required. No special X-rays. Well, thanks to the work of some German researchers, it’s easier than ever to predict who might be at risk for osteoporosis.

What could be better than a simple, safe screening tool that doesn’t cost a lot of money? Can something that good be true? Let’s take a look at the study and see what they had to say.

A 21-item questionnaire was developed by analyzing a group of patients who had a broken bone caused by osteoporosis. The presence of osteoporosis was verified in each of these patients using the special dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) available for testing bone density.

The group ranged in age from 40 to 80 years old. Decreased bone mineral density was observed in 80 per cent of the patients. Half were diagnosed with a clear case of osteoporosis. By studying common factors among the group, they were able to identify the most important risks. The first was age over 70 followed by a history of smoking or heavy alcohol use.

Early menopause (women younger than 45 years old) and a loss of more than four centimeters (one inch) in height (for men and women) also correlated with increased risk of bone fracture linked to osteoporosis. There was one other important risk factor and that was a long period of being immobile (e.g., bed bound or in a wheelchair) or inactive.

There are possible explanations for each of these risk factors being linked to osteoporosis. For example, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol (more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks each day for men) has the effect of taking calcium out of the body through the kidneys.

With menopause, there is a natural reduction of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen has the effect of holding bone in place. Without it, bone cells are destroyed faster without being replaced. Poor nutrition associated with alcohol intake and increasing age may play a role in bone loss as well.

Osteoporosis is a big problem for men and women all around the world. In fact, it is listed as one of the top 10 major diseases with serious consequences. A fracture may seem like a simple thing but it can result in the eventual decline and death in older adults.

In many places there is limited availability of health care. The rising costs of medical testing add another dimension to help explain why people aren’t getting tested or identified early as having osteoporosis.

This new questionnaire focuses on the most important risk factors and may help identify people at risk earlier. There is a potential for preventing disabling fractures. Once an individual is recognized as being at risk for osteoporosis then additional testing may be needed. But at least with this new survey, those who need to be evaluated and treated can be directed accordingly.

Reference: Kolios L, et al. Anamnestic Risk Factor Questionnaire as a Reliable Diagnostic Instrument for Osteoporosis (Reduced Bone Morphogenic Density). In Biomed Central (BMC) Musculoskeletal Disorders. August 2011. Vol. 12. No. 187. Pp. On-line.