Osteoporosis is a systemic skeletal disease characterized by compromised bone strength, which predisposes the affected bone to fracture. It is now recognized that both bone density and bone quality (architecture, turnover, damage and mineralization) are important determinants of bone strength. Osteoporosis can occur at any age and in both males and females. In the U.S. alone, osteoporosis causes 250,000 hip fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures and 700,000 - 750,000 vertebral fractures per year. 1
The spine is made up of strong bones called vertebrae. A vertebra can break just like any other bone in the body. When the vertebral body collapses, it is called a vertebral compression fracture (VCF). These fractures happen most commonly in the thoracic spine (the middle portion of the spine), and lumbar spine (the lower part). Vertebral fractures are usually caused by osteoporosis. This condition can be caused by a diet lacking in calcium, excessive alcohol consumption, menopause, chronic steroid therapy, smoking, or as a normal consequence of aging. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 8 men over the age of 50 has osteoporosis - worldwide. Fractures, can result in pain and disability. 2
Vertebral compression fractures can have devastating long-term effects in terms of diminished quality of life, decreased independence, and increased morbidity and mortality. Focusing on the worst outcome of osteoporosis - death - the Fracture Intervention Trial, which followed more than 6,000 relatively healthy older women over approximately four years showed that both hip and clinical vertebral fractures were associated with significant increases in mortality. Increased mortality is one of many consequences of osteoporotic vertebral fractures; however, unlike hip fractures, only one-third of vertebral fractures receive clinical attention. Recent data shows that a single vertebral fracture increases the risk of further vertebral fractures and that each subsequent fracture can lead to increased morbidity and mortality. It is vital that progress be made in the timely diagnosis and treatment of this condition.
Treatment options for vertebral compression fractures include vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.
1 National Institute of Health. Osteoporosis prevention, diagnosis, and therapy. Consensus Statement. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2000;17:1-36.
2 Cauley JA, Thompson DE, Ensrud KC, Scott JC, Black D. Risk of mortality following clinical fractures. Osteoporosis Int. 2000;11:556-561