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Screening for Osteoporosis

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The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are usually administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions.

The main screening test for osteoporosis is called a bone mineral density test (BMD). This is a painless, noninvasive method of measuring your bone mass. A BMD test can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs and can estimate your risk of having a fracture in the future.

With a BMD test, your bone mass is measured and then compared to that of either (1) a healthy 30-year-old adult (T-score) or (2) the expected bone mass of someone your age (Z-score). Because low BMD is common among older adults, comparison to peers your age can be misleading. The results of a BMD test will indicate whether you have normal bone density, low bone density (called osteopenia), or full-blown osteoporosis.

There are several types of BMD tests that are used to screen for or diagnose osteoporosis.

Currently there is no consensus within the medical community regarding BMD screening tests. The decision whether to screen is usually made on an individual basis based on your risk factors. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests the following for initial screening:

  • All women age 65 and older and men age 70 and older, regardless of risk factors
  • Postmenopausal women and men aged 50-69 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis

Revision Information

  • Clinician's guide to prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.nof.org/files/nof/public/content/file/950/upload/523.pdf. Updated 2013. Accessed July 22, 2013.

  • Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated July 15, 2013. Accessed July 22, 2013.

  • 5/16/08 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php: Qaseem A, Snow V, et al; Clinical Efficacy Assessment Subcommittee of the American College of Physicians. Screening for osteoporosis in men: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:680-684.