Gold Coast study finds many women ‘overdiagnosed’ with osteoporosis

The modern definition of osteoporosis is based on an arbitrary decision by doctors in the 1990s…

Is osteoporosis more of a ‘risk factor’ than its own disease? And are too many older women being over-medicated as a result?

That might be the case according to a new study involving over 40 Gold Coast women, and led by health researchers from Bond University and the University of Sydney.

The world-first research, which has now been published in the PLOS ONE scientific journal, explains that the modern definition of osteoporosis is based on an arbitrary decision by doctors in the 1990s that the bones of a 30-year-old woman should be the benchmark for “normal”. Unfortunately, this definition means that up to a third of older women are theoretically “diseased”.


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The definition has been controversial since 1994, because of concern that too many healthy older women were being overdiagnosed and treated unnecessarily.

Dr Ray Moynihan from Bond University says: “Overdiagnosis is a risk with osteoporosis, as many people diagnosed will not experience any harm from the condition, yet the medications used to treat it can have sometimes serious side effects.

“The study revealed women may have a preference for describing the condition as a ‘risk factor’ for a future fracture, rather than a disease,” Dr Moynihan said.

Dr Moynihan said the research revealed a need to better communicate the idea that early detection can be a double-edged sword – it may be beneficial for some but harmful for others

“This is important knowledge for those seeking to actively manage their health and avoid being diagnosed or treated unnecessarily,” he said.