About Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures
Osteoporosis is called a "silent disease," because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a simple strain, twist of the body, bump or fall causes a fracture. Fractures may occur in the hip, wrist, ribs or elsewhere, but the most common site of fracture is in the vertebrae, the bones that make up the spinal column.
There are 10 million people in the United States who suffer from osteoporosis and another 28 million with brittle bones that put them at risk for fractures. Eighty percent of those affected are women. Also at risk are those whose bones have become fragile due to the long-term use of steroids to treat a variety of diseases such as lupus, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Significant risk has been reported in all ethnic groups. Although osteoporosis is most common in old age, it can occur at any time.
Among individuals with osteoporosis, there will be 700,000 painful spinal fractures each year. These so-called "compression" fractures are caused when the weakened vertebrae of the spine collapse – usually in the middle (thoracic) or lower (lumbar) spine. A collapsed vertebra may initially be felt as severe back pain. When more than one vertebra collapses, loss of height or spinal deformities such as kyphosis ("widow’s hump") or stooped posture may result. In some cases, the fracture stabilizes on its own, and the pain goes away. But for many, the pain persists because the crushed bone continues to move and break.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis include:
- Being female
- Advanced age
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Absence of menstrual periods
- Anorexia or bulimia
- A diet low in calcium
- Long-term use of medications such as corticosteroids or anticonvulsants
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive use of alcohol
Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are now several medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that may prevent or treat osteoporosis. For women who have already experienced spinal fractures, however, there have been few effective treatments available until recently. Now, a safe, nonsurgical, interventional radiology treatment called vertebroplasty offers new hope for women who suffer the pain of vertebral fractures.
Reprinted with permission of the Society of Interventional Radiology © 2004, www.SIRweb.org. All rights reserved.
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