Can the WHO definition of osteoporosis be applied to multi-site axial transmission quantitative ultrasound?

Osteoporos Int. 2004 May;15(5):367-74. doi: 10.1007/s00198-003-1555-4. Epub 2003 Dec 18.


Osteoporosis is a highly prevalent but preventable disease and, as such, it is important that there are appropriate diagnostic criteria to identify those at risk of low trauma fracture. In 1994 the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced definitions of osteoporosis and osteopenia using T-scores, which identified 30% of all Caucasian post-menopausal women as having osteoporosis. However, the use of the WHO T-score thresholds of -2.5 for osteoporosis and -1.0 for osteopenia may be inappropriate at skeletal sites other than the spine, hip and forearm or when other modalities, such as quantitative ultrasound (QUS) are used. The aim of this study was to evaluate the age-dependence of T-scores for speed of sound (SOS) measurements at the radius, tibia, phalanx and metatarsal by use of the Sunlight Omnisense, to evaluate the prevalence of osteoporosis and osteopenia at these sites by use of the WHO criteria, and calculate appropriate equivalent T-score thresholds. The study population consisted of 278 healthy pre-menopausal women, 194 healthy post-menopausal women and 115 women with atraumatic vertebral fractures. All women had SOS measurements at the radius, tibia, phalanx and metatarsal and bone mineral density (BMD) measurements at the lumbar spine and hip. A group of healthy pre-menopausal women aged 20-40 years from the pre-menopausal group were used to estimate the population mean and SD for each of the SOS and BMD measurement sites. Healthy post-menopausal women were classified into normal, osteopenic or osteoporotic, based upon the standard WHO definition of osteoporosis and expressed as a percentage. We investigated the age-related decline in T-scores from 20-79 by stratifying the healthy subjects into 10-year age groups and calculating the mean T-score for each of these groups. Finally, we estimated appropriate T-score thresholds, using five different approaches. The prevalence of osteoporosis in the post-menopausal women aged 50 years and over ranged from 1.4 to 12.7% for SOS and 1.3 to 5.2% for BMD. The age-related decline in T-scores ranged from -0.92 to -1.80 for SOS measurements in the 60 to 69-year age group and -0.60 to -1.19 for BMD measurements in the same age group. The WHO definition was not suitable for use with SOS measurements, and revised T-score thresholds for the diagnosis of osteoporosis of -2.6, -3.0, -3.0 and -2.2 and for osteopenia of -1.4, -1.6, -2.3, and -1.4, for the radius, tibia, phalanx and metatarsal, respectively, were recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Bone Density
  • Bone Diseases, Metabolic / diagnostic imaging
  • Bone Diseases, Metabolic / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Fingers / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Metatarsal Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / complications
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / diagnostic imaging*
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / physiopathology
  • Postmenopause / physiology
  • Premenopause / physiology
  • Radius / diagnostic imaging
  • Reference Values
  • Spinal Fractures / etiology
  • Tibia / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography
  • World Health Organization