The Women's Health Initiative Hip Fracture Risk Calculator, available online, can help women over 50 gauge their bone health.
The calculator was created from data gathered from 162,000 women who took part in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), the largest-ever study of women's health done in the US.
This perhaps could even be called an improvement on bone scan. For while scans can detect low bone density and osteoporosis, which puts a person at risk for fracture, most hip fractures occur in women who don't have osteoporosis, reports The New York Times.
In predicting the risk of bone fracture, the calculator takes into account factors like whether the woman's parents suffered from a hip fracture at an early age, whether a woman has fractured a bone before the age of 54, if she is a smoker and whether she takes corticosteroids.
Lead author Dr. John Robbins, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, says that many women at risk, including African-American women or those who are overweight or have normal bone density, often aren't screened for bone health because doctors assume they aren't at risk for a fracture.
"Doctors have a hard time looking at multiple factors,'' says Dr. Robbins. "They have a mindset that it's a disease of thin, Caucasian women, and that's not really true.''
The calculator predicts a woman's five-year risk of hip fracture. But just because a woman appears to be at high risk doesn't mean she should take bone-building drugs, notes Dr. Robbins. Although bone-building drugs have been shown to improve bone density, there's no evidence that a woman with normal bone density, but still at high fracture risk, would benefit from using the drugs.
Instead, women with normal bone density but at known fracture risk might be advised to consider calcium supplements, increase weight-bearing exercise, safety proof their homes to prevent accidental falls and learn techniques to improve balance.
Dr. Robbins says the risk calculator is simply a tool women can use to help make decisions about their health. "The people who will get the most out of it are the ones who will have risk factors that aren't looked at by physicians,'' he said. "We have lots of women at known risk and nobody pays attention.''
The calculator is available at http://hipcalculator.fhcrc.org/