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Two-Thirds of Spinal Fractures Undiagnosed, Untreated: Report

Stooped back, loss of height and sudden back pain are all signals, experts warn

FRIDAY, Oct. 15, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- As part of World Osteoporosis Day on Oct. 20, the International Osteoporosis Foundation has issued a new report on the serious but often overlooked problem of spinal fractures, declaring that two-thirds of them go undiagnosed and untreated.

A call to action, the report highlights the consequences of spinal fractures that are misdiagnosed as arthritis or mere back pain.

"These fractures must not be ignored," John A. Kanis, foundation president, warned in a news release. "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."

Even though spinal fractures are often linked to osteoporosis, experts at the foundation warn that physicians often fail to draw a connection between the two.

For example, just 40 percent of elderly women and less than 20 percent of elderly men who are diagnosed with a spinal fracture by X-ray are subsequently tested for osteoporosis, the report authors noted.

"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," Harry K. Genant, of the University of California, said in the news release. "It is essential that doctors refer these patients for further testing and that radiology reports clearly identify spinal fractures as 'FRACTURED' to avoid ambiguity."

Genant co-authored the foundation report with Dr. Mary Bouxsein, of Harvard Medical School.

The pair pointed out that an undiagnosed and untreated spinal fracture raises the risk for more fractures and potential long-term disability.

In fact, they noted that 20 percent of women who suffer a spinal fracture will experience a second one within a year. Globally, a spinal fracture occurs every 22 seconds, the report stated.

More information

For more on spinal fractures, visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons .

SOURCE: International Osteoporosis Foundation, news release, Oct. 14, 2010.
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