Background: There is increasing evidence that correct interpretation of bone mineral density (BMD) measurements by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) requires a population-specific reference range. We therefore collected data on age-related BMD in a random sample of the normal adult Austrian population to establish an appropriate normative database.
Methods: We measured BMD by DEXA at five different skeletal sites in 1089 subjects, i.e. 654 females and 435 males, aged between 21-76 years, who had been recruited by 17 centres across Austria.
Results: Age-related bone loss was observed until age 65 years with significant changes at the lumbar spine (r = -0.23), total hip (r = -0.07), trochanter (r = -0.10), femoral neck (r = -0.30) and Ward's triangle (r = -0.40) in the women but only at the femoral neck (r = -0.23) and at Ward's triangle (r = -0.40) in the men. When we calculated T scores from the BMD data of the young normal adult study population and used the T score set points according to the WHO classification of osteopenia and osteoporosis, we found that, depending on the skeletal site measured, 7.6-27.4% of the women and 16-41% of the men in our study group had low bone mass, whereas 0.6-2.7% of the female and 0.2-1.0% of the male study population were osteoporotic. However, osteoporosis was indicated in 4-9-fold more females and 5-15-fold more males when we based our estimates on the normative data provided by the manufacturers of the DEXA systems.
Conclusion: Our data underscore the importance of using a population-specific reference range for DEXA measurements to avoid overdiagnosis of osteoporosis.