One of the best kept secrets in all of medicine is that a tool exists which can accurately predict your risk of breaking bones! If you think I’m talking about a bone density scan (DEXA), think again. A lesser known calculator called the Fracture Risk Assessment Tool (FRAX) was launched by researchers at the University of Scheffield in 2008. This tool incorporates several key risk factors for broken bones to paint a complete picture of your bone health. For some, the FRAX calculator will provide needed reassurance. For others, it may provide a harsh wake up call… But shouldn’t everyone be armed with this information? Since the entire purpose of osteoporosis treatment is preventing broken bones… doesn’t it make since to make your treatment decisions based on your personal fracture risk instead of just a T-score?

As you may have guessed, determining your risk of breaking a bone is not an easy process. Your bone density (T-score) is one of the most important factors, but your T-score is only a measure of your bone density. It does not account for other key contributors to bone strength including bone mineral composition, bone shape and structure, as well as your age, genetics and lifestyle choices.

Continue reading to learn how to calculate your personal risk of breaking bones!

What you need to know about your risk of breaking bones

  • You are more than just a T-score and lab values!
  • Two people with the same T-score can have a significantly different risk of breaking bones, and therefore require different treatments.
  • Believe it or not, some people with osteopenia may have a higher risk of breaking bones than those with osteoporosis.
  • Likewise, some people with osteoporosis actually have a fairly low risk for breaking bones in the near future.

Let’s consider a real life example to illustrate this point.

Here are two women that appear to be nearly identical when it comes to their bone health. They have the same bone density (hip T-score -2.5), and they are both proactive when it comes to diet and exercise. The only significant difference between these two women is their age.

So does this mean that their risk of breaking bones is identical? The answer is no! Gertrude’s risk of breaking her hip over the next 10 years is 6.8%, while Mary’s is only 1.4%… or nearly 5-times less!

Still not convinced? Let’s try one more example.

Here is an easy one. Melissa has osteoporosis, and Paula has osteopenia, so clearly Melissa must have a higher risk of breaking bones, right? Let me tell you that this assumption is wrong!

We need to consider the fact that Paula has multiple risk factors for fractures including a family history of osteoporosis, as well as a personal history of a broken bone and smoking. When these risk factors are taken into account, her risk of breaking any bone over the next 10 years is 29% compared to Melissa’s risk of only 12%… or nearly 2.5-times higher!

How to calculate your risk of breaking bones

Now that I have your attention, let’s take a look at how we calculate your risk of breaking bones. The FRAX tool is programmed to accurately predict your risk of breaking a bone over the next 10 years. It does not include EVERY risk factor known to weaken bones, but it provides a far more accurate view of your bone health than your T-score alone.

The calculator takes into account a wide variety of risk factors for osteoporosis. These include your age, height, weight, hip T-score, personal history of fracture, family history of hip fracture, history of smoking and excessive alcohol intake, history of secondary osteoporosis, history of rheumatoid arthritis, and use of oral steroids for more than 3 months. While the list is extensive, your medical provider may consider other known risk factors as well.

Once all of your information is provided, the FRAX calculator will predict two things– your 10 year risk of breaking your hip, and your 10 year risk of breaking any bone.

The FRAX calculator provides an accurate prediction of your risk of breaking bones over the next 10 years. When we consider your FRAX score, T-score, and history of fractures, it makes choosing the right osteoporosis treatment for you much more clear.

Not sure what to make of your FRAX results? Ask the expert for help!

For some, these results may be a wake up call telling you that your fracture risk is higher than you expected. For others, these results may provide reassurance that your risk of breaking bones is low despite a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis. Regardless of your outcome, the good news is that there are steps you can take to protect your bones.

If you are looking for more information about diet and exercise for osteoporosis, consider this article: Natural Osteoporosis Treatments

If you are considering a medication to improve your bone health, an overview of available treatment options can be found here: Osteoporosis Medications