The Importance of Osteoporosis Screenings
Leaving osteoporosis unchecked can lead to additional fractures.
Physicians have long advocated that patients undergo cholesterol, colorectal, diabetes, prostate, Pap, mammography and other health screenings, but screening for osteoporosis has not gained the same footing.
About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 44 million have low bone density, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Although the disease is the cause of about 2 million broken bones annually in the U.S., approximately 80% of older Americans who suffer from bone breaks are not tested or treated for osteoporosis, notes the NOF.
“Oftentimes, primary care physicians screen for other chronic illnesses, but bone density sometimes gets forgotten, leaving many men and women unscreened for osteoporosis,” said Christopher L. Wise, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Drisko, Fee & Parkins and medical director of trauma for the NKCH Ortho-Spine Co-managagement Company.
The public’s lack of awareness is evidenced by a 2017 national survey, which found 82% of postmenopausal women do not correlate a fracture, especially one caused by falling from a standing position or less, as a possible risk factor for osteoporosis. The 1,012 women age 50 and older in the U.S. included those with osteoporosis.
“I refer my patients back to their PCPs because I only see them four or five more times after surgery,” Dr. Wise said. “That opens the door for the PCPs to manage their patients’ biannual BMD scans and monitor their medications, which may include pharmacotherapy to try to lessen their chance of future fractures.”
The NOF recommends bone mineral density scans of the hip and spine for:
- Women age 65 and older and men age 70 and older, regardless of clinical risk factors
- Younger postmenopausal women, women in menopausal transition and men age 50-69 with clinical risk factors for fracture
- Adults who have a fracture after age 50
- Adults with a condition associated with low bone mass or bone loss
- Adults taking medications that can cause low bone mass or bone loss
Although damage caused by osteoporosis cannot be reversed, the disease can be slowed to help prevent future fractures. Interventions to reduce fracture risk include adequate calcium and vitamin D intake, regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise, cessation of tobacco use, and identification and treatment of alcoholism.
- Men age 50-70: 1,000 mg per day
- Men age 71 and older: 1,200 mg per day
- Women age 51 and older: 1,200 mg per
“Intakes in excess of 1,200 to 1,500 mg per day have limited potential for benefit and may increase the risk of kidney stones, cardiovascular disease and stroke,” Dr. Wise added.
Vitamin D Recommendations
- Adults age 50 and older: 800-1,000 IU per day for maintenance
- Adults who are vitamin D deficient:
- 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 each week or
- Equivalent daily dose (6,000 IU vitamin D2 or vitamin D3) for 8-12 weeks (follow with maintenance therapy of 1,500-2,000 IU per day)
Referring physicians can use the World Health Organization’s online Fracture Risk Assessment Tool® to calculate a patient’s risk of incurring another fracture within 10 years.
“I’ve seen patients with hip fractures who are 80 years old who have never had a bone density scan. I’ve seen others who are healthy-looking at 61, but have had hip fractures and osteoporosis,” Dr. Wise said. “I would ask physicians to try to be vigilant with at-risk individuals by making vitamin D testing and BMD scanning a part of their screening protocols.”