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Chest X-Rays May Catch Osteoporosis

Screening for other problems can find undetected fractures in vertebrae

MONDAY, April 25, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Chest X-rays may help spot osteoporosis in older people, suggests a study in the April 25 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers found that undetected osteoporosis in older people may be discovered if X-ray images taken for other reasons are examined for fractures of the vertebrae.

Previous research suggests that an estimated 12 percent to 25 percent of people aged 50 to 60 have one or more osteoporosis-related vertebral fractures, the study noted. Vertebral fractures are the most common fracture associated with osteoporosis.

Only about 30 percent of such fractures are identified. The remaining 70 percent go undetected, and are associated with decreased quality of life, illness, increased risk of future vertebral fractures, and death.

In this study, researchers studied a random sample of 459 patients over age 60 who had been evaluated in the emergency department at the University of Alberta Hospital and had a chest X-ray for any reason. The study found that 72 (16 percent) of the patients had a moderate-to-severe vertebral fracture.

Forty-three (60 percent) of those fractures were documented in the original X-ray reports. Of the 72 patients with vertebral fractures, only 18 (25 percent) had a history of osteoporosis.

"Even among the patients admitted to the hospital (198) who also had a vertebral fracture (32), there was no documented addition of osteoporosis medications during hospitalization or at discharge," the study authors wrote.

"The most noteworthy finding in our study is the magnitude of the underdiagnosis and undertreatment of osteoporosis in elderly patients with a vertebral fracture," the authors wrote. "One in six elderly patients who underwent chest radiography in our emergency department had clinically important vertebral fractures. Nevertheless, only 43 (60 percent) of these fractures were reported, and only 25 percent of patients with fractures received a diagnosis of or treatment for osteoporosis."

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons outlines the warning signs of osteoporosis.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, April 25, 2005
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