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Challenges of Estimating Fracture Risk with DXA: Changing Concepts About Bone Strength and Bone Density.

Bone loss due to weightlessness is a significant concern for astronauts' mission safety and health upon return to Earth. This problem is monitored with bone densitometry (DXA), the clinical tool used to assess skeletal strength. DXA has served clinicians well in assessing fracture risk and has been particularly useful in diagnosing osteoporosis in the elderly postmenopausal population for which it was originally developed. Over the past 1-2 decades, however, paradoxical and contradictory findings have emerged when this technology was widely employed in caring for diverse populations unlike those for which it was developed. Although DXA was originally considered the surrogate marker for bone strength, it is now considered one part of a constellation of factors-described collectively as bone quality-that makes bone strong and resists fracturing, independent of bone density. These characteristics are beyond the capability of routine DXA to identify, and as a result, DXA can be a poor prognosticator of bone health in many clinical scenarios. New clinical tools are emerging to make measurement of bone strength more accurate. This article reviews the historical timeline of bone density measurement (dual X-ray absorptiometry), expands upon the clinical observations that modified the relationship of DXA and bone strength, discusses some of the new clinical tools to predict fracture risk, and highlights the challenges DXA poses in the assessment of fracture risk in astronauts.

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