Health Team

Study Examines Spine Fractures in Women

Posted December 18, 2007 5:04 p.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2007 10:24 p.m. EST

Osteoporosis makes bones brittle, and that includes spines. There are about 700,000 spine fractures every year in the U.S. About two-thirds of them go undiagnosed.

Three out of four spine fractures are silent. The bone collapses, but with no signs or symptoms. Many women who have spine fractures don’t know it.

“Yet, these silent spine fractures are associated with an increased risk of disability, loss of function, as well as an increased risk of mortality,” said Dr. Jane Cauley with the University of Pittsburgh.

Researchers reviewed data on nearly 10,000 women, ages 65 and older, who got bone-density tests – like a mild x-ray – upon entering the study. They were tracked for 15 years. The findings appeared 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 more likely to have a new spine fracture over the 15 years,” Cauley said.

That’s even if they had good results on the first bone-density test. Women with low results on the first test were also at increased risk.

A fourth of the women who began with low bone density developed a new spine fracture over the course of the study, compared with only 9 percent of women who had normal bone density when they entered the study, Cauley said.

Osteoporosis causes the fractures, but it's preventable and treatable. A bone-density test, which Medicare covers, can help women and their doctors decide if osteoporosis treatment is needed.

That's what Ruth Chester did.

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

Women age 50 and older should talk to their physicians about their bone density, and women ages 65 and older should have a bone-density exam.