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Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(8):1430-1432

This statement summarizes the current U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations on screening for osteoporosis and the supporting scientific evidence, and updates the 1996 recommendations contained in the Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, Second Edition.1 Explanations of the ratings and of the strength of overall evidence are given in Tables 1 and 2, respectively. The complete USPSTF recommendation and rationale statement on this topic, which includes a brief review of the supporting evidence, is available through the USPSTF Web site (, the National Guideline Clearinghouse (, and in print through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Publications Clearinghouse (telephone: 800-358-9295; e-mail: The complete information on which this statement is based, including evidence tables and references, is available in the article “Screening for Osteoporosis: A Review of the Evidence for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force”2 and in the summary of the evidence and the Systematic Evidence Review3 on this topic, which can be obtained through the USPSTF Web sites. An abridgment of the USPSTF recommendations statement originally appeared in Annals of Internal Medicine,137,6,526–8.

The USPSTF grades its recommendations according to one of five classifications (A, B, C, D, or I) reflecting the strength of evidence and magnitude of net benefit (benefits minus harms).
A.The USPSTF strongly recommends that clinicians provide [the service] to eligible patients. The USPSTF found good evidence that [the service] improves important health outcomes and concludes that benefits substantially outweigh harms.
B.The USPSTF recommends that clinicians provide [the service] to eligible patients. The USPSTF found at least fair evidence that [the service] improves important health outcomes and concludes that benefits outweigh harms.
C.The USPSTF makes no recommendation for or against routine provision of [the service]. The USPSTF found at least fair evidence that [the service] can improve health outcomes but concludes that the balance of benefits and harms is too close to justify a general recommendation.
D.The USPSTF recommends against routinely providing [the service] to asymptomatic patients. The USPSTF found at least fair evidence that [the service] is ineffective or that harms outweigh benefits.
I.The USPSTF concludes that the evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against routinely providing [the service]. Evidence that [the service] is effective is lacking, of poor quality, or conflicting, and the balance of benefits and harms cannot be determined.

Summary of Recommendations

  • The USPSTF recommends that women aged 65 and older be screened routinely for osteoporosis. The USPSTF recommends that routine screening begin at age 60 for women at increased risk for osteoporotic fractures (see Clinical Considerations for discussion of women at increased risk).B recommendation.

The USPSTF found good evidence that the risk for osteoporosis and fracture increases with age and other factors, that bone density measurements accurately predict the risk for fractures in the short-term, and that treating asymptomatic women with osteoporosis reduces their risk for fracture. The USPSTF concludes that the benefits of screening and treatment are of at least moderate magnitude for women at increased risk by virtue of age or presence of other risk factors.

  • The USPSTF makes no recommendation for or against routine osteoporosis screening in postmenopausal women who are younger than 60 or in women aged 60 to 64 who are not at increased risk for osteoporotic fractures.C recommendation.

The USPSTF found fair evidence that screening women at lower risk for osteoporosis or fracture can identify additional women who may be eligible for treatment for osteoporosis, but it would prevent a small number of fractures. The USPSTF concludes that the balance of benefits and harms of screening and treatment is too close to make a general recommendation for this age group.

The USPSTF grades the quality of the overall evidence for a service on a three-point scale (good, fair, or poor).
Good:Evidence includes consistent results from well-designed, well-conducted studies in representative populations that directly assess effects on health outcomes.
Fair:Evidence is sufficient to determine effects on health outcomes, but the strength of the evidence is limited by the number, quality, or consistency of the individual studies; generalizability to routine practice; or indirect nature of the evidence on health outcomes.
Poor:Evidence is insufficient to assess the effects on health outcomes because of limited number or power of studies, important flaws in their design or conduct, gaps in the chain of evidence, or lack of information on important health outcomes.

Clinical Considerations

  • Modeling analysis suggests that the absolute benefits of screening for osteoporosis among women aged 60 to 64 who are at increased risk for osteoporosis and fracture are comparable to those of routine screening in older women. The exact risk factors that should trigger screening in this age group are difficult to specify based on evidence. Lower body weight (weight <154 lb [70 kg]) is the single best predictor of low bone mineral density.4,5 Low weight and no current use of estrogen therapy are incorporated with age into the three-item Osteoporosis Risk Assessment Instrument (ORAI).4,5 There is less evidence to support the use of other individual risk factors (for example, smoking, weight loss, family history, decreased physical activity, alcohol or caffeine use, or low calcium and vitamin D intake) as a basis for identifying high-risk women under age 65. At any given age, African-American women on average have higher bone mineral density (BMD) than white women and are thus less likely to benefit from screening.

  • Among different bone-measurement tests performed at various anatomical sites, bone density measured at the femoral neck by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is the best predictor of hip fracture and is comparable to forearm measurements for predicting fractures at other sites. Other technologies for measuring peripheral sites include quantitative ultrasonography (QUS), radiographic absorptiometry, single-energy x-ray absorptiometry, peripheral dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, and peripheral quantitative computed tomography. Recent data suggest that peripheral bone density testing in the primary care setting can also identify post-menopausal women who have a higher risk for fracture over the short term (one year). Further research is needed to determine the accuracy of peripheral bone density testing in comparison with DXA. The likelihood of being diagnosed with osteoporosis varies greatly depending on the site and type of bone measurement test, the number of sites tested, the brand of densitometer used, and the relevance of the reference range.

  • Estimates of the benefits of detecting and treating osteoporosis are based largely on studies of bisphosphonates. Some women, however, may prefer other treatment options (for example, hormone replacement therapy, selective estrogen-receptor modulators, or calcitonin) based on personal preferences or risk factors. Clinicians should review with patients the relative benefits and harms of available treatment options, and uncertainties about their efficacy and safety, to facilitate an informed choice.

  • No studies have evaluated the optimal intervals for repeated screening. Because of limitations in the precision of testing, a minimum of two years may be needed to reliably measure a change in BMD; however, longer intervals may be adequate for repeated screening to identify new cases of osteoporosis. Yield of repeated screening will be higher in older women, those with lower BMD at baseline, and those with other risk factors for fracture.

  • There are no data to determine the appropriate age to stop screening and few data on osteoporosis treatment in women older than 85. Patients who receive a diagnosis of osteoporosis fall outside the context of screening but may require additional testing for diagnostic purposes or to monitor response to treatment.

This series is coordinated by Joanna Drowos, DO, contributing editor.

A collection of USPSTF recommendation statements published in AFP is available at

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