Setting a Standard for a “Silent” Disease: Defining Osteoporosis in the 1980s and 1990sArticle
Osteoporosis, a disease of bone loss associated with aging and estrogen loss, can be crippling but is “silent” or symptomless prior to bone fracture. Despite its disastrous health effects, high prevalence, and enormous associated healthcare costs, osteoporosis lacked a universally accepted definition until 1992. In the 1980s, the development of more accurate medical imaging technologies to measure bone density spurred the medical community’s need and demand for a common definition. The medical community tried, and failed, to resolve these differing definitions several times at consensus conferences and through published articles. These experts finally accepted a standard definition at an international consensus conference convened by the World Health Organization in 1992. The construction of osteoporosis as a disease of quantifiable risk diagnosed by medical imaging machines reflects contemporary trends in medicine, including the quantification of disease, the risk factor model, medical disciplinary boundaries, and global standardization of medical knowledge.
Wylie, C.D. (2010). Setting a standard for a “silent” disease: Defining osteoporosis in the 1980s and 1990s. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 41, 376-385.
University of Virginia
December 21, 2020