Osteoporosis: New technologies bring new hope
Bones & Joints Dr Ossi Riekkinen discusses the importance of diagnosing osteoporosis early, and the role of new technology in achieving this goal.
Osteoporosis is a severe condition, where the sufferer’s bone mass and structure have changed and so he or she is more prone to fractures and bone breakage. The primary group at risk is post-menopausal women, but the disease can affect younger women and men too.
The current gold-standard method for diagnosing osteoporosis is Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry – what’s known as a DXA or DEXA scan. This usually involves attending a large central hospital, where the patient’s bone density is measured.
Globally, over 75 per cent of osteoporosis sufferers go undiagnosed and never receive treatment.
Dr Ossi Riekkinen, a medical physicist and co-founder of a Finnish start-up, Bone Index, says that early diagnosis is crucial: “If you have an osteoporotic fracture, that is a most significant risk factor for another fracture, so it is extremely important to find patients early and treat them.”
One of the major challenges when it comes to diagnosis is the pathway from primary care to the larger hospitals where DXA scanning is available: due to costs, only patients in a few high-risk groups receive automatic referral, and waiting lists can be long.
Riekkinen offers an example from his own family: “My mother-in-law is in her mid-80s; she is still very active mentally, but she can hardly move due to several fractures in her spine – she had already experienced two or three fractures before she was able to get a referral for bone density measurement. The reason for her fractures is osteoporosis, but she had to wait for a formal diagnosis.”
There are now new scanning devices that can be used to detect osteoporosis in a primary care setting, or by a doctor or nurse on a home visit. Patients do not have to wait for a DXA scan to receive an initial diagnosis.
One of the major challenges when it comes to diagnosis is the pathway from primary care to the larger hospitals
“A just-published article in Osteoporosis International shows that if we use such devices in primary healthcare, we can diagnose about 70 per cent of patients to be either healthy or osteoporotic – only 30 per cent really need a DXA scan.”
Riekkinen thinks that technological development can play a major role in improving access to swift diagnosis, in turn improving access to treatments and enabling a greater quality of life.
“There is a saying: Cancer may kill you but osteoporosis may take your life.
“In EU as a whole, the annual cost from bone fractures is about €40 billion. But the real cost is the human cost. It is so important to be able to diagnose osteoporosis early and prevent as many fractures as possible.”