- The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care concludes that there is fair evidence to recommend screening postmenopausal women to prevent fragility fractures (no or low trauma fractures) (grade B recommendation). Although there is no direct evidence that screening reduces fractures, there is good evidence that screening is effective in identifying postmenopausal women with low bone mineral density and that treating osteoporosis can reduce the risk of fractures in this population (grade A recommendation).
- For women who screen positive for osteoporosis, there is good to fair evidence that therapy with alendronate, risedronate or raloxifene prevents osteoporotic fractures (grade A to B recommendation).
- For women with severe osteoporosis (osteoporosis plus at least 1 fragility fracture), there is good to fair evidence to recommend the use of alendronate, risedronate, parathyroid hormone (limited duration), raloxifene, etidronate and oral pamidronate therapy (grade A to B recommendation). If none of these drugs is tolerated, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or calcitonin can be considered. (In a recent position statement, the task force recommended against combined estrogen–progestin therapy as well as unopposed estrogen therapy for the primary prevention of chronic diseases [grade D recommendation].3)
- For women without documented osteoporosis, there is fair evidence that calcium and vitamin D supplementation alone prevents osteoporotic fractures (grade B recommendation). There is fair evidence that combined estrogen–progestin therapy decreases the incidence of total, hip and nonvertebral fractures; however, for most women the risks may outweigh the benefits (grade D recommendation). (As noted above, the task force recently recommended against HRT for the primary prevention of chronic diseases [grade D recommendation].3)
Osteoporosis, the main clinical consequence of which is osteoporotic fracture, affects 1 in 6 Canadian women over the age of 50.1 About 40% of white women 50 years of age in Canada will have an osteoporotic fracture during their remaining lifetime: 15.6% will experience a vertebral fracture, 16.0% a wrist fracture and 17.5% a hip fracture.2
The recommendations in this statement apply to most postmenopausal women in the general population, including those who have late menarche, early menopause, low calcium intake, low physical activity, high alcohol or caffeine intake, low body weight, a family history of osteoporosis or osteoporotic fractures or a history of hyperthyroidism or who are smokers. However, they do not apply to women who have specific conditions that predispose them to significant increased risk of fractures, including women taking steroids, those with hyperparathyroidism and those in nursing homes. These recommendations are meant to guide physicians in their discussions with their postmenopausal patients, as each individual woman may have unique risks and preferences. The recommended age for initiation of screening is based on the prevalence of osteoporosis and fractures among postmenopausal women in the different age groups.
Our recommendations are based on fracture data rather than on bone mineral density (BMD) data, since we do not know how short-term BMD differences translate into long-term fracture outcomes, especially among women without osteoporosis. A unique feature of our guideline is that we do not recommend using drug therapy for the primary prevention of osteoporosis, especially in young postmenopausal women. More than 45% of postmenopausal women have osteopenia.1 The fracture risk for most of these women is low. Because risk of fracture increases with age, it may be reasonable to consider prescribing drug therapy for women who are 65 years or older and who have a T score below –2.0.