Quantitative heel ultrasound as a predictor for osteoporosis

Med J Aust. 1999 Sep 20;171(6):297-300. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.1999.tb123659.x.


Objective: To determine the diagnostic value of quantitative ultrasound (QUS) to predict bone mineral density (BMD) categories as defined by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Rheumatology department of a tertiary care hospital (Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, NSW), 1997-1998.

Subjects: 326 healthy women aged 45-80 years who had volunteered for a twin study. Our study included both members of non-identical twin pairs but only one randomly selected member of identical twin pairs.

Main outcome measures: BMD categories as defined by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry of lumbar spine and left hip, and QUS of calcaneus; sensitivity, specificity and likelihood ratios (LRs) of QUS parameters to diagnose osteoporosis as defined by BMD.

Results: The sensitivity of QUS to diagnose BMD osteoporosis varied between 9% and 47%, depending on the QUS parameter. The specificity of QUS was high (88%-100%). If all QUS parameters were normal, osteoporosis was unlikely (LR, 0-0.2). One QUS parameter, broadband ultrasound attenuation (BUA), was highly predictive of osteoporosis by BMD when in the osteoporotic range (LR, infinity), but had low sensitivity (9%). QUS results in the osteoporotic range for other parameters and all QUS results in the osteopenic range were less predictive (LR, 1.0-5.2) of osteoporotic BMD.

Conclusion: These results suggest that, for most of those tested for osteoporosis by QUS in the community, uncertainty remains about expected BMD.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bone Density
  • Bone Diseases, Metabolic / diagnostic imaging
  • Calcaneus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / diagnostic imaging*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography