Spine fractures and bone density

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
November 13, 2007 9:00:00 PM PST
Most fractures in the spine have no symptoms, but that doesn't mean they can't lead to big problems. Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

Spine fractures are the most common kind of bone fractures caused by osteoporosis. About 700,000 spine fractures occur each year in the U.S., but about two-thirds of those go undiagnosed.

A new study aims to help identify women at greatest risk for those fractures, in hopes of preventing them.

About 75 percent of vertebral, or spine, fractures are silent, meaning the bone collapses with no signs or symptoms.

"So women may be walking around without even knowing they have a spine fracture," Dr. Jane Cauley. "Yet their silent spine fractures are associated with an increased risk of disability, loss of function, as well as an increased risk of mortality."

Dr. Cauley and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh were among the researchers who studied spine fractures. They reviewed data on almost 10,000 women ages 65 and older who got bone density tests, like a mild X-ray, upon entering the study. They were then tracked for 15 years. The findings appear in in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We found that women who entered the study and had an existing spine fracture, they were four times as likely to have a new spine fracture over 15 years," she said.

Even if they had good results on that first bone density test. But women with low results on that first density test were also at increased risk.

"A quarter of the women who had low bone density when they entered the study developed a new spine fracture over the course of the study, compared to only 9 percent of women who had normal bone density when they entered the study," she said.

Why is this information so important to older women and their doctors? Because osteoporosis causes these fractures, and...

"Osteoporosis is preventable, is treatable, so I think we have to dispel this myth that if you get older, no matter what, you'll get osteoporosis," Dr. Cauley said.

She says a bone density test, which Medicare covers, can help women and their doctors decide if osteoporosis treatment is needed. Ruth Chester was part of the study.

"I think it's important for a doctor to know who is at risk for these things," she said.

And for a woman to know her risk, as well.

Dr. Cauley recommends that women ages 50 and older ask their doctors about the bone density test. She adds that women over age 65 definitely should have the test.