April 11, 2014
1 min read

Vitamin D deficiency screening may help prevent osteoporosis fractures

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Physicians could help patients stave off bone density loss by ordering vitamin D deficiency screening tests as an early detection method rather than a diagnostic tool, according to findings published in the Southern Medical Journal.

Karen E. Huang

 Karen E. Huang

In a retrospective study at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C., Karen E. Huang, MS, and colleagues examined data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey — both offering data from 112 geographic areas across the United States — to assess the rate of outpatient visits linked to a vitamin D deficiency diagnosis. An estimated 7.5 million visits were linked to the condition during a 3-year span, according to the data.

“From 2007 to 2010, we noted that the number of diagnoses for vitamin D deficiency rapidly increased and tripled from 2008 to 2010,” Huang said in a press release. “Previously, diagnoses of low vitamin D levels largely may have been used to identify why someone had a fracture or weak bones. In our data, we found that only 10% of visits with low vitamin D mentioned the patient having weak bones or a fracture.”

The average age of patients when diagnosed with low vitamin D levels was 57 years, and women were 2.6 times more likely than men to receive the diagnosis. Individuals aged at least 65 years were nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed for vitamin D deficiency than individuals younger than 65 years, according to the study.

More than 97% of diagnoses were for unspecific vitamin D deficiency. Nearly 10% of vitamin D deficiency visits also resulted in an osteoporosis diagnosis or bone fracture, researchers found.

"We believe this increase in visits with a diagnosis of vitamin D deficiency, but without a diagnosis of weak or fractured bones, suggests that a lot of doctors now are checking patients for this deficiency so that they can help prevent the patients from developing weak bones,” Huang said.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.