Background: Hounsfield unit (HU) measurement obtained from computed tomography (CT) scans of the wrist is a potential new screening method for low bone mineral density (BMD). We hypothesized that HU measurements of the ulnar head obtained from CT scans would correlate with BMD assessed with dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans of the forearm.
Methods: Patients with both upper-extremity CT and DXA scans performed at a single institution were included in the study. Hounsfield units were manually measured in the distal part of the ulna by 1 author blinded to the DXA results. Average values were then compared with forearm BMD values as determined with a DXA scan.
Results: Seventy-seven CT scans of 74 patients were included. Average HU values were significantly lower in the osteoporotic and osteopenic groups in comparison with the normal BMD group. The upper limit of the 95% confidence interval for osteopenic patients was 145.9 HU. The average forearm T-score for patients with an HU value at or below the cutoff of 146 was significantly lower than the average T-score for those with an HU value of >146 HU (p < 0.0001). Sensitivity and negative predictive value for low BMD using this cutoff value were calculated to be 91% and 89%, respectively.
Conclusions: Distal ulnar HU measurements accurately reflect the BMD of the forearm as diagnosed with a DXA scan. Our results suggest that distal ulnar HU measurements of ≤146 HU are strongly associated with low BMD and that values above this cutoff accurately rule out low forearm BMD with a high degree of sensitivity and negative predictive value. Utilizing this technique may improve the capture of at-risk patients and streamline the screening process for osteoporosis.
Level of Evidence: Diagnostic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
1Department of Orthopaedics, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland
2Department of Surgery, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland
3Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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