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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 06:40 GMT
Osteoporosis cases 'being missed'
X-ray scan
Osteoporosis affects one in three UK women
Experts have urged doctors to carry out more checks on women who could be at risk of the crippling bone disease osteoporosis.

It follows a study which suggests that almost half of all US women over the age of 50 have early signs of the disease and do not know it.

The study of 200,000 women, one of the biggest of its kind, found that 7% had osteoporosis and nearly 40% had a condition that precedes it called osteopenia.

Osteoporosis affects most women after menopause when they are producing less of the hormone oestrogen, which helps maintain bone density.

It affects one in three women and one in 12 men in the UK, an estimated three million people.

Taking replacement oestrogen can halt or slow the loss of bone density and a healthy diet that is rich in calcium can also help ward off the disease.

X-rays of bone structure
Various factors linked to risk
Doctors at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York offered free bone mineral density tests to 200,000 women who had not been diagnosed with the disease.

They used a follow-up questionnaire to determine the risk to women of breaking their bones.

They found that women with osteopenia were at 1.5 times more likely to break a bone within one year compared with those with normal bone density. Those who had osteoporosis were at 3.5 times the risk.

The researchers found that age, personal or family history of fracture and smoking were associated with increased risk. Those of Asian or Hispanic backgrounds were also more likely to suffer from the disease.

Women with higher body mass index who exercise and drink alcohol were less likely to develop the condition.

Strategies needed

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researcher Ethel Siris said: "The report reaffirms the existence of a large population of women expected to live well into the 21st century who are at risk for future fracture."

In an accompanying editorial Charles Chesnut of the University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, suggested health providers should review the way they treat women at risk of osteoporosis.

"Based on the current study, strategies to identify, manage, and treat osteoporosis in primary care need to be established and implemented - hopefully, sooner rather than later."

See also:

20 Oct 01 | Health
'I felt my spine fracture'
04 Jun 01 | Health
Osteoporosis 'runs in families'
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