Vertebral Fracture Assessment

Fractured Vertebra        Normal Vertebra 

In recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the significance of fractures of the spine called Vertebral Compression Fractures. When a vertebral compression fracture occurs the building block bones of the spine called vertebrae, collapse or compress and this often leads to loss of height and the inability to stand up straight.

25 percent of postmenopausal women in the United States have a vertebral compression fracture and the risk of developing these fractures increases with age, so that by age 80, 40 percent of women are affected. We now know that just like hip fractures, vertebral compression fractures are associated with an increased risk of mortality and this is true in both men and women.

Usually caused by low bone mass or osteoporosis, vertebral compression fractures vary from mild to severe. Severe fractures can result in pain and loss of ability to perform activities of daily living. However, at least 1/3 of these fractures are not recognized by the patient or their doctor.

This is alarming because the presence of one vertebral compression fracture seriously increases the risk of additional vertebral compression fractures. In the first year following a compression fracture, the risk of a repeat fracture is increased 5 fold.

That means that the risk of fracture, particularly a vertebral compression fracture, is not just related to your bone density results but also to your age and your history of prior fractures.

The Osteoporosis Center at Haywood Regional Medical Center has the technology to detect fractures of the spine at the time of bone density testing using a tool called Vertebral Fracture Assessment or VFA.

VFA provides an image of the spine that looks much like an xray and allows accurate identification of fractures, so patients and their physicians can have this information to use when making treatment decisions. It is a simple assessment that can be performed with a request from the doctor at the time of a bone density study.

If you have lost more than an inch and a half of height with aging, you may have suffered a silent vertebral compression fracture and VFA may be an important test for you and your doctor to consider at the time of your next bone density study.

The most important thing for you to remember is that it is critical for you and your doctor to use the information from the bone density study along with your age and prior fracture history to design a program of treatment tailored to your special needs. All of us, young and old, every day need enough calcium, Vitamin D and weight bearing exercise – but those of us who have lost bone or have fractured may be in need of additional medical therapies to prevent further bone loss and reduce the risk of future fractures.

Ask your doctor about your bone health and whether or not you might need additional testing or treatment – now is the time to act!