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Radiologists Recommend Early Osteoporosis Screening

At the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) held in Chicago, a radiologist from the University of California at San Diego recommended that most women begin receiving bone mineral density measurements for osteoporosis between the ages of 21 and 35. David J. Sartoris, MD, urged the public to re-think the common belief that only post-menopausal women need to be concerned about osteoporosis. Though the majority of women affected by osteoporosis are older, Sartoris called the disease "pediatric" because the complications associated with osteoporosis inevitably stem from a lack of calcium during childhood and adolescent years.

Dr. Sartoris and other physicians recommended that women in their twenties and early thirties begin having bone mineral density measurements, especially if they have a family history of osteoporosis. The keys to avoiding the potentially devastating effects of osteoporosis are early detection and prevention. Dr. Christopher Cann, MD, a radiologist of the University of California in San Francisco supported Dr. Sartoris’ recommendations. Women with a history of anorexia (an eating disorder characterized by a loss of appetite), women who exercised to the point of amenorrhea (temporary cessation of menstrual cycles) during puberty or early adulthood, or women went through puberty later than normal may benefit from bone mineral density measurements at age 25, said Dr. Cann.

Physicians believe that if women know they suffer from bone thinning, they will be more willing to take preventive measures to avoid osteoporosis later in life. Women may reduce their risk of osteoporosis by:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet, rich in calcium and Vitamin D
  • Performing regular weight-bearing exercise or activity
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol intake

Physicians at the RSNA conference stressed that adequate calcium intake during puberty is essential for preventing osteoporosis because calcium helps promote bone growth and development. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that pre-menopausal women receive 1200 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. Once a woman reaches menopause, her daily calcium intake should be 1500 mg.

Researchers are still investigating what causes calcium loss but have identified several factors including a decrease in the female hormone estrogen and diets high in protein, particularly animal protein (which causes calcium to be lost through the urine). One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that women who followed a vegetarian diet for at least twenty years only lost 18% of their bone mineral while women who did not eat a vegetarian diet lost an average of 35% of bone mass by the time they reached 80 years of age. Women whose diets are high in protein should receive 1500 mg to 1800 mg of calcium each day to help prevent osteoporosis.

Bone mineral density measurements are currently recommended for the following women:

  • Post-menopausal women with at least one additional risk factor (other than menopause)
  • All women over age 65 regardless of risk factors
  • Post-menopausal women who present with fractures
  • Women considering therapy for osteoporosis, if bone mineral density (BMD) measurements would affect the decision
  • Women who have been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for prolonged periods of time

Additional Resources and References