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A Contemporary View of the Definition and Diagnosis of Osteoporosis in Children and Adolescents

Ward LM1Weber DR2Munns CF3Högler W4Zemel BS5.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019 Dec 22. pii: dgz294. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgz294. [Epub ahead of print]




The last two decades have seen growing recognition of the need to appropriately identify and treat children with osteoporotic fractures. This focus stems from important advances in our understanding of the genetic basis of bone fragility, the natural history and predictors of fractures in chronic conditions, the use of bone-active medications in children, and the inclusion of bone health screening into clinical guidelines for high risk populations. Given the historic focus on bone densitometry in this setting, The International Society for Clinical Densitometry published revised criteria in 2013 to define osteoporosis in the young, oriented towards prevention of over-diagnosis given the high frequency of extremity fractures during the growing years. This definition has been successful in avoiding an inappropriate diagnosis of osteoporosis in healthy children who sustain long bone fractures during play. However, it’s emphasis on the number of long bone fractures and a concomitant bone mineral density (BMD) threshold ≤ -2.0, without consideration for long bone fracture characteristics (e.g. skeletal site, radiographic features) or the clinical context (e.g. known fracture risk in serious illnesses or physical-radiographic stigmata of osteoporosis), inappropriately misses clinically relevant bone fragility in some children. In this perspective, we propose a new approach to the definition and the diagnosis of osteoporosis in children, one that balances the role of BMD in the pediatric fracture assessment with other important clinical features, including fracture characteristics, the clinical context, and where appropriate, the need to define the underlying genetic etiology as far as possible.