A test now under development may help doctors determine which women are at greatest risk for severe bone deterioration after menopause in time for the crippling disease to be prevented.

In experiments on monkeys, researchers used a drug to stimulate temporary menopause-like conditions and measured the effect on calcium in the urine. It is this loss of calcium that causes bone deterioration in many women after 50, a condition called osteoporosis.

The researchers, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that monkeys with the most bone loss for the seven-day test period were at greatest risk for severe bone loss when real menopause begins. Normal hormone levels were restored when the drug was withdrawn.

Tests are to begin on women later this year. If results are similar to those in the animal experiments, women at high risk could begin estrogen and calcium treatments early in an effort to stave off osteoporosis, said Gary Hogden of the Eastern Virginia Medical School, primary author of the study. In addition, those in the lowest risk group could avoid potentially dangerous hormone therapy, which has been linked to uterine cancer and heart disease, he said in an interview.

In an editorial in the same issue of the journal, however, another expert doubts it will be easy to predict which women are at greatest risk because life style has an effect on development of osteoporosis.

Nonetheless, Dr. S.S.C. Yen of the University of California at San Diego called the findings "a major step forward toward predicting predisposition to osteoporosis," the third leading cause of death in women over 50.