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Postgrad Med J. 2003 Oct;79(936):581-4.

Performance of clinical referral criteria for bone densitometry in patients under 65 years of age assessed by spine bone mineral density.

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  • 1WHO Collaborating Centre for Metabolic Bone Diseases, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.



A case finding strategy based on a number of established risk factors has been suggested by Royal College of Physicians' (RCP) guidelines to optimise bone densitometry referrals for assessment of osteoporosis.


The performance of clinical referral criteria was examined in women and men aged <65 years referred for bone mineral density (BMD) assessment.


Cross sectional observational study over six months.


Though BMD tended to be lower in patients with multiple criteria for referral, differences from those referred with a single criterion were not statistically significant. The overall prevalence of osteoporosis was higher than expected in both sexes, 11.6% in women and 27.5% in men (expected prevalences were 8% and <1% respectively). BMD was significantly lower in patients referred with a single criterion compatible with the RCP guidelines than in age matched controls or in those patients referred with non-RCP criteria (mean (SD) Z score -0.47(1.38) v 0.35(1.41), p<0.001). Low body mass index was also significantly associated with a lower than expected BMD. In contrast, spine BMD was higher than expected in those with self reported back pain, loss of height, or spinal curvature (p = NS).


Most of the criteria recommended by the RCP performed well in identifying relatively younger patients with low BMD and osteoporosis. However, prior fractures and corticosteroid use did not reach statistical significance probably due to inclusion of all energy fractures, and current or past steroid use of unspecified dose or duration. Criteria like loss of height and/or spine curvature perform relatively poorly, reflecting the need for further investigation to better identify those needing BMD assessment.

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