The researchers believe a DXA scan, which is used to screen millions of women for osteoporosis, might provide an ideal chance to pinpoint any possible links between thinning bones and atherosclerosis. It could also distinguish women with the greatest heart disease risk, without more exposure to radiation or higher costs.
Researchers tested the hypothesis by analyzing the medical records of 50–80-year-old women who had had a DXA scan at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital between 2005 and 2014.
The final analysis included 12,681 women. Using national registry data, their health was monitored for an average of 9 years. Around 4% of women had a heart attack or stroke in that period and 2% died.
Thinning or weakened bones with a low bone mineral density score at the femoral neck, hip, and lumbar spine were independently linked to an increased risk —16% to 38% — of heart attack or stroke. This was after taking possibly influential factors into account. They include age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and a past fracture.
An official osteoporosis diagnosis was also independently correlated with a 79% greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
A 2008 study about the link between osteoporosis and atherosclerosis found that hardening of the arteries and mineralization of bones share several common features. Still, exactly how they are connected isn’t clear.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded, “Considering that [DXA scanning] is widely used to screen for osteopenia and osteoporosis in asymptomatic women, the significant association between [bone mineral density] and higher risk of [cardiovascular disease] provides an opportunity for large-scale risk assessment in women without additional cost and radiation exposure.”