The diagnosis of osteoporosis is made on measuring the bone mineral density (BMD). The most popular method is dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA). In addition to the detection of abnormal BMD, the diagnosis of osteoporosis requires investigations into potentially modifiable underlying causes; this may be done with blood tests and X-rays. Depending on the likelihood of an underlying problem, investigations for cancer with metastasis to the bone, multiple myeloma, Cushing’s disease and other above mentioned causes may be performed.
Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry
Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA, formerly DEXA) is considered the gold standard for the diagnosis of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is diagnosed when the bone mineral density is less than or equal to 2.5 standard deviations below that of a young adult reference population. This is translated as a T-score. The World Health Organization has established the following diagnostic guidelines:
- T-score -1.0 or greater is “normal”
- T-score between -1.0 and -2.5 is “low bone mass” (or “osteopenia”)
- T-score -2.5 or below is osteoporosis
When there has also been an osteoporotic fracture (also termed “low trauma-fracture” or “fragility fracture”), defined as one that occurs as a result of a fall from a standing height, the term “severe or established” osteoporosis is used.
The International Society for Clinical Densitometry takes the position that a diagnosis of osteoporosis in men under 50 years of age should not be made on the basis of densitometric criteria alone. It also states that for pre-menopausal women, Z-scores (comparison with age group rather than peak bone mass) rather than T-scores should be used, and that the diagnosis of osteoporosis in such women also should not be made on the basis of densitometric criteria alone.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended in 2002 that all women 65 years of age or older should be screened with bone densitometry. The Task Force recommends screening only those women ages 60 to 64 years of age who are at increased risk. The best risk factor for indicating increased risk is lower body weight (weight < 70 kg), with less evidence for smoking or family history. There was insufficient evidence to make recommendations about the optimal intervals for repeated screening and the appropriate age to stop screening. Clinical prediction rules are available to guide selection of women ages 60-64 for screening. The Osteoporosis Risk Assessment Instrument (ORAI) may be the most sensitive strategy
Regarding the screening of men, a cost-analysis study suggests that screening may be “cost-effective for men with a self-reported prior fracture beginning at age 65 years and for men 80 years and older with no prior fracture”. Also cost-effective is the screening of adult men from middle age on to detect any significant decrease in testosterone levels, say, below 300.