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Minerva Medica 2008 February;99(1):73-89


language: English

Osteoporotic vertebral fractures redux

Lentle B. C. 1, Gordon P. 2, Ward L. 3

1 BC Women’s Hospital and Health Sciences Centre Vancouver, BC, Canada 2 Children’s and Women’s Health Centre of British Columbia, Vancouver,BC, Canada 3 Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, ON, Canada


Osteoporosis remains an important cause of morbidity and mortality especially in the elderly. This fact is largely due to fractures of the proximal femur and spine. As recently recognized, vertebral fractures are as much a threat to health and longevity as fractures of the proximal femur. In recent decades, the development of tools to evaluate fracture risk as well as medications to treat osteoporosis has altered the management of people who are at fracture risk. At the same time identification and management procedures concerning spinal fracturing are not very clear. Besides there is not even clear consensus about what exactly constitutes a vertebral fracture, particularly those of minor degree. While height loss is a simple and valuable tool to detect vertebral fractures, it is neither sensitive nor specific enough to replace radiographs. Some 65% of fractures cause no symptoms. Often vertebral fractures are misdiagnosed, especially if they have occurred silently and if the opportunity for diagnosis arises fortuitously. It is to the patient’s benefit that radiologists report and physicians identify vertebral fractures evident on a chest or other radiograph, no matter how incidental to the immediate clinical indication for the examination. Technological evolution now allows dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry machines to be used to take spine images while doing a densitometry. The images are adequate, even if not of high radiographic quality, and, more important, the patient undergoes a smaller radiation dose than with conventional spinal radiographs. Such technology may promote fracture recognition. The recognition of vertebral fractures, as well as the prevention and treatment of further fractures, will likely do much to reduce both the burden of osteoporosis-related morbidity and mortality, as well as fracture-related costs to healthcare systems.

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