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Routine scans could predict fracture risk in older people

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Routine body imaging scans may help clinicians estimate osteoporotic fracture risk in older people, according to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health analysed data on 507 older adults who underwent chest and/or abdominal CT scans for a variety of indications. They found that a simple rapid density measurement of bone quality called vertebral trabecular attenuation correlated with fracture risk in the following six years.

Specifically, having a trabecular attenuation of the first lumbar vertebra below a certain threshold was associated with an increased risk of future fractures, the research showed.

In the UK, more than three million people are estimated to have osteoporosis and there are 500,000 fractures every year as a result of the condition, according to the National Osteoporosis Society.

The bones most commonly fractured due to osteoporosis are the wrists, hip and spine.

The new research suggests that if CT scans performed for other purposes are analysed for fracture risk, preventative measures could be taken which would reduce the number of fractures suffered by older people.

“CT scans are commonly performed in older adults for a wide variety of reasons. The rich bone data embedded in these scans is often ignored, but can and should be harnessed for opportunistic screening for fracture risk,” said senior study author Dr Perry J. Pickhardt of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

A previous study found that community-based screening for osteoporosis could prevent more than a quarter of hip fractures in older women.

Published in The Lancet, the research showed that a simple questionnaire, combined with bone mineral density measurements for some, would help identify those at risk of hip fracture, allowing patients to be targeted for treatment.