A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine states that bone loss develops slowly and women who have a normal test when they are 65 do not need to be retested for 15 years! Even women who show some bone loss can wait many years before they are tested again, according the the study authors.
The study followed 5,000 women over age 67 for over 10 years. These women did not have osteoporosis at the beginning and they found fewer than 1% of women with normal beginning bone density developed osteoporosis over the next 15 years. Only 5% of women who started with mild bone loss developed osteoporosis.
This study points to the fact that we have been over testing normal women who would not develop significant bone loss. But there are a few aspects of the study that are important to note. They only studied women with normal or slightly low Bone Mineral Density (BMD). Women who have had prior broken bones, or who have significant bone loss at the time of screening should be followed more closely...perhaps every 3-5 years.
Not everyone agrees with the 15 year recommendation either. "An interval of 15 years is too long", says Felicia Cosman, MD, senior clinical director for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. She cites flaws in the study design.
There is an easy online tool that can help women and men calculate their risk of having a fracture in the nest 10 years. It can help guide us to when we need to get a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test by taking account of certain known risk factors.