▪ Objective: To describe how the results of bone densitometry affect women's decisions about measures to prevent fractures and to determine whether labeling women as having below-normal bone density has adverse effects.
▪ Design: Mail survey of a random sample of women.
▪ Setting: Four community hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area.
▪ Patients: A total of 261 women (response rate, 81.3%) who had undergone bone densitometry.
▪ Measurements: Bone densitometry and self-report of changes in attitude and behaviors.
▪ Results: Fifty-three percent of the women reported that their first bone density measurements were below normal, and 44% said that they were diagnosed as having osteoporosis on the basis of their test results. Women who reported that their bone density measurements were below normal were much more likely than women with normal results to begin some type of measure to prevent fractures (94% compared with 56%; P < 0.01), to start hormone therapy (38% compared with 8%; P < 0.01), and to take precautions to avoid falling (50% compared with 9%; P < 0.01). Women reporting low bone density, however, also became more fearful of falling (38% compared with 2%; P < 0.01) and limited their activities to avoid falling (24% compared with 2%; P < 0.01).
▪ Conclusions: The results of bone densitometry substantially influence women's decisions about beginning estrogen replacement therapy and other preventive measures for osteoporotic fractures. The potential effects of labeling a woman as having below-normal bone density need to be considered before densitometry is widely used for unselective screening of women.