Health Osteoporosis: disease or risk factor?

Osteoporosis: disease or risk factor?

There are concerns that healthy older women may be unnecessarily labelled as ‘diseased’ following new research from Bond University and the University of Sydney.

The study has revealed women think osteoporosis might be better labelled as a “risk factor” for future fracture, rather than a “disease”.

Dr Ray Moynihan, a Senior Research Fellow at Bond University’s Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, said that over-diagnosis is a risk with osteoporosis as many people diagnosed will not experience any harm from the condition and the medications used to treat it can have sometimes serious side effects.

The modern definition of osteoporosis was set arbitrarily in the early 1990s, when it was decided the bones of a 30-year-old woman were “normal”. As a consequence up to a third of older women were automatically classified as “diseased”. This low threshold for diagnosis potentially causes excessive use of medication, which for some will carry a poor risk-benefit ratio.

“We found considerable surprise among the women about how osteoporosis was defined by medical experts,” said Dr Moynihan.

The women were uneasy that an older woman’s bones were classified as normal or not, based on comparing them to a young woman’s bones, rather than other women of a similar age.

Dr Moynihan said the research suggested there was a gap between community expectations and how experts sometimes set low diagnostic thresholds.

“The research reveals a need to better communicate the idea that early detection can be a double-edged sword. It may be beneficial for some but harmful for others,” he said.

Read more about the findings of this study here. Story credit: Bond University newsroom.

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