1. We have examined the relationship between broadband ultrasound attenuation in the os calcis and measurements of bone mineral in the distal forearm and lumbar spine of normal and postmenopausal osteoporotic women.

2. Values of broadband ultrasound attenuation in postmenopausal women with vertebral osteoporotic fractures were significantly lower (35%) than in normal pre-and peri-menopausal women (55.4 ± 3.8 and 79.6 ± 0.8 dB/MHz, respectively).

3. Broadband ultrasound attenuation correlated significantly with bone mineral content measured in the distal forearm by single-photon absorptiometry (r = 0.77, P < 0.0001) and with bone mineral content (r = 0.66, P < 0.0001) and bone mineral density (r = 0.72, P < 0.0001) measured in the lumbar spine by dual-photon absorptiometry.

4. Although significant, these correlations are not sufficiently close to be predictive. However, the accuracy of broadband ultrasound attenuation in discriminating between normal subjects and patients with vertebral fracture compared very favourably with direct measurements in the spine by dual-photon absorptiometry.

5. Broadband ultrasound attenuation, but not the other measurements, correlated significantly with age in the osteoporotic patients (r = 0.50, P < 0.05).

6. These findings may reflect the partial dependence of broadband ultrasound attenuation on the intrinsic trabecular architecture of cancellous bone, the disruption of which contributes to an increase in fracture risk.

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