Osteoporosis is a metabolic skeletal disease defined as a reduction of bone mineral density below a defined lower limit of normal.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines osteoporosis as a T-score less than -2.5 SD. However, Z-scores are more reliable than T-scores (which are defined against adult white females) as they compare with normal people of same age and gender - see dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) for additional discussion of T and Z-scores.

Osteoporosis per se is asymptomatic and is most often diagnosed when individuals are evaluated on the basis of risk factors or following presentation with fragility fracture.

Osteoporosis is essentially decreased bony tissue per unit volume of bone. There is no microstructural and biochemical change as occurs in osteomalacia or rickets. Hence the mineral-to-osteoid ratio is normal (cf. osteomalacia in which the mineral-to-osteoid ratio is decreased).

Osteoporosis can be localized or diffuse and be divided into:

There is a different list of secondary causes for juvenile osteoporosis with some overlap with adult causes. 

Decreased bone density can be appreciated by decreased cortical thickness and loss of bony trabeculae in the early stages in radiography. Bones like the vertebra, long bones (proximal femur), calcaneum and tubular bones are usually looked at for evidence of osteoporosis. Nevertheless, dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is the gold standard of diagnosing osteoporosis 10

  • not a sensitive modality, as more than 30-50% bone loss is required to appreciate decreased bone density on a radiograph
  • vertebral osteoporosis manifests as
  • loss of trabeculae in proximal femur area, which is explained by Singh's index (and can also be seen in the calcaneum)
  • in tubular bones (especially metacarpals), there will be thinning of the cortex
    • cortical thickness <25% of the whole thickness of metacarpal signifies osteoporosis (normally 25-33%)

Bone mineral density (BMD) measurement is the method of estimation of calcium hydroxyapatite. Multiple x-ray based, gamma-ray based and ultrasonic methods are available:

Based on DEXA BMD cann fall into three categories 10:

  • normal (low risk of fracture)
  • osteopenic (medium risk)
  • osteoporotic (high risk)

Quantitative CT can measure bone mineralization and BMD, which is usually done in the lumbar spine 10

Quantitative ultrasound of the calcaneal bone quality has recently emerged as a cost-efficient screening tool for osteoporosis 10

Bone marrow signal takes on a heterogeneous appearance with rounded focal fatty lesions replacing normal marrow with coalescence often occurring 5:

  • T1: heterogeneously hyperintense
  • T2: variable signal

Osteoporotic wedge compression fractures will alter in signal characteristics depending on age.

As osteoporosis decreases bone strength, patients are at an increased risk of fracture, often with minimal trauma, and commonly at the pelvis, hip and wrist.

Oral bisphosphonates are the most commonly prescribed medications and are effective in reducing the risk of further osteoporotic fracture. There are a range of other medications that can also be used, including intravenous bisphosphonates, selective estrogen receptor modulators (e.g. raloxifene), denosumab, strontium ranelate, calcitonin, and parathyroid hormone-based treatments (e.g. teriparatide) 8.

Bisphosphonates and denosumab have been associated with rare, but serious, side effects including bisphosphonate-related atypical femoral fractures and bisphosphonate-related osteonecrosis of the jaw

Article information

rID: 31331
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Cases and figures

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  • Case 5: on DEXA
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