Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease caused by decreased bone density. Worldwide, 200 million people are affected by this disease, and in the United States 10 million people have it. 34 million Americans suffer from osteopenia, or low bone mass.

Originally thought to be a women’s disease, it is now known that 30% of sufferers are men.

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Vertebral compress fractures

Osteoporosis is one of the leading causes of vertebral compression fractures (VCF), which will affect more than 50% of women and 30% of men during their lifetime. Oftentimes, doctors will treat the fracture without identifying or treating this underlying cause. A previous fracture is the greatest risk factor for a new fracture; studies show that the rate of refracture after osteoporosis-related vertebral fractures is 20% within the first year. This underscores the need for timely diagnosis and treatment.

A retrospective study was conducted in which the 2002 medical records of 156 patients (average age: 77.3) were obtained from a large military health-care system. All patients sampled were 50 years or older and had previously sustained a vertebral compression fracture. The purpose of the study was to determine the proportion of patients followed up with osteoporosis interventions within one year of being treated for their spine fracture.


Overall, the percentage of patients receiving osteoporosis treatment is low

The study found that one year after sustaining a vertebral compression fracture, a relatively low percentage of patients were being treated for osteoporosis - the underlying cause of the fracture.

  • 28% (vs. 6-7 previously) of patients not previously being treated for osteoporosis were started on a new active osteoporosis medication
  • 35% (vs. 15% previously) were started on any new medication for the treatment of osteoporosis

While this study demonstrates a general trend toward increased diagnosis and treatment, these numbers are still less than ideal.

Osteoporosis undertreated in men

Another finding was that significantly lower rates of interventions were prescribed to males who had sustained an osteoporosis-related spine fracture. The risk of subsequent fractures, especially in the spine, is almost double in males than females, suggesting that osteoporosis treatment after a vertebral compression fracture is even more critical in males.

Source: The Spine Journal, September/October 2008. Official Journal of the North American Spine Journal