Spinal fractures remain undiagnosed and untreated

Millions of individuals left at risk of further fractures and long-term disability; experts call for early diagnosis and treatment

A new report issued by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) for World Osteoporosis Day puts the spotlight on the severe impact of spinal fractures and calls on health professionals to recognize the signs of these fractures in their patients.

Often dismissed as simple back pain or arthritis, spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis frequently remain undiagnosed and untreated, leaving individuals at risk of further fractures and long term disability. Untreated, as many as one in five women with a spinal fracture will sustain another within twelve months.

'The Breaking Spine', authored by Professor Harry K. Genant of the University of California and Dr. Mary Bouxsein of Harvard Medical School, reveals the serious impact of these fractures and calls on health professionals to take action to diagnose patients and refer them for treatment. "Doctors must look out for evidence of spinal fractures, especially in their patients over 50 - stooped back, loss of height, and sudden, severe back pain are the three tell-tale signs, says Professor Genant. "It is essential that doctors refer these patients for further testing and that radiology reports clearly identify spinal fractures as 'FRACTURED' to avoid ambiguity." Currently, only about 40% of older women with spinal fractures visible on X-ray are tested for osteoporosis. The figure is even lower in men (less than 20%).

IOF President, Professor John A. Kanis states, "These fractures must not be ignored. Their repercussions can be severe, resulting in stooped back, acute and chronic back pain, loss of height, immobility, depression, increased number of bed days, reduced pulmonary function and even premature death." In Canada, individuals aged 50 or older who have suffered spinal fractures have a one in six chance of dying within 5 years.

Globally, spinal fractures represent a huge socio-economic burden. It is estimated that one spinal fracture occurs every 22 seconds worldwide. Studies have shown that as many as 20-25% of Caucasian women and men over 50 years of age have a current spinal fracture. Costs associated with all osteoporotic fractures are predicted to rise markedly over the next few decades as the population ages.

"At least 2 million Canadians have osteoporosis and as many as 65% of spinal fractures go undetected- their devastating consequences are clear, and it's critical to pay attention to identifying them and preventing them, " says Dr. Famida Jiwa, Acting President & CEO, Osteoporosis Canada.

The report was issued on the occasion of the North American launch of IOF's World Osteoporosis Day campaign, in cooperation with Osteoporosis Canada. Marked on October 20th, World Osteoporosis Day 2010 focuses on spinal bone health and calls for the prevention of osteoporotic fractures, including spinal fractures, as a key public health goal.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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