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Am J Med. 1997 Aug 18;103(2A):30S-42S; discussion 42S-43S.

Clinical consequences of vertebral fractures.

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  • 1Hawaii Osteoporosis Foundation, Honolulu 96814, USA.


People with vertebral fractures have greater pain, disability, and healthcare utilization, on average, than those without fractures. Most studies of acute pain and disability have been limited to patients with clinically diagnosed fractures (a subset of all symptomatic patients), representing about one third of all patients with fractures identified radiographically. Acute symptoms vary widely. Some patients experience intolerable pain that can be completely debilitating for several weeks or months, whereas about half of all patients with radiographically identified fractures report having had no symptoms. The reasons for this variability are unknown. Chronic pain and disability among patients with vertebral fractures are significantly greater on average than among people without fractures, even after adjusting for comorbid conditions that are common among the elderly. Similar to acute symptoms, chronic symptoms vary widely and often persist for at least several years. The risk of pain and disability increases progressively with the number and severity of vertebral deformities: the risk is multiplied several times with each additional fracture. On average, physical function is impaired among people with vertebral fractures, whether or not they currently report back pain. Declines in physical function and changes in appearance contribute to social isolation and loss of self-esteem, impairing quality of life. The cumulative impact of vertebral fractures on quality of life may rival that of hip fractures because hip fractures are less frequent and occur later in life. As many as 40% of symptomatic vertebral fractures are initially misdiagnosed, signaling a need for greater awareness among physicians and patients. Prevention of initial vertebral fractures should be actively encouraged; even if the initial fracture is asymptomatic, it indicates a greatly increased risk of subsequent fractures, pain, and physical impairment.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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