(HealthDay News) -- A number of factors predict an older woman's risk for bone fractures, according to a long-term U.S. study of more than 170,000 women, ages 50 to 99.
Postmenopausal women have reduced levels of estrogen, which results in weaker bones and an increased risk of fractures. In older women, fractures can have serious consequences, including reduced quality of life, ongoing health problems and death.
In this study, researchers tracked 170,314 postmenopausal women who took part in the U.S. National Osteoporosis Risk Assessment (NORA) study. The women had no prior diagnosis of osteoporosis and no history of taking osteoporosis-specific medications.
At the start of the study, the women completed a baseline survey and underwent a bone mineral density test. In follow-up surveys completed by the women at years one, two and five, nearly 8,000 of the women reported new fractures.
The researchers found that the strongest predictors of fracture in these women were a history of fracture after age 45; indications of osteoporosis and osteopenia (bone weakness) as detected by bone density testing; increasing age; poor/fair self-rated health; loss of height; and depression.
Black and Asian women were less likely to suffer fractures than white women, and the use of estrogen at the start of the study was associated with a lower fracture risk.
The findings were presented Saturday at the annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, in Washington, D.C. Many of the researchers have financial or employment ties to pharmaceutical companies.
The study "confirms that risk factors traditionally associated with future fracture risk should be taken very seriously by physicians and patients alike," study principal investigator Dr. Ethel Siris, professor of clinical medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York, said in a prepared statement.
"It underscores the importance of assessing these risk factors periodically over time and of performing bone mineral density tests in menopausal women, according to current guidelines, something not being done for the majority of women in the U.S.," Siris said.
"The NORA data also reinforces the need for physicians to screen for depression during routine primary care, as this is a common and serious problem that also turns out to predict risk for fractures," she said.
The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about osteoporosis.