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Men's Health: Men often overlook broken backbones

Collapsed vertebrae occur as a result of osteoporosis and can lead to poor quality of life

Men with osteoporosis-related fractures of the backbones are often unaware of their condition, yet many report poor quality of life, according to an Australian study.

At least one in eight men over 50 has osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become weakened and break more easily. This can lead to collapse of the backbones, or vertebrae, which in turn causes height loss and curvature of the spine.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Geelong, Australia, looked for vertebral fractures in more than 1,100 men ranging in age from 20 to 93 years. None of the men in their 20s had vertebral fractures, but nearly 15 per cent of the men age 80 and older were affected.

Just under 1,000 men completed a quality-of-life questionnaire that asked about physical activity, adaptations (such as avoiding certain movements) and fears (such as fear of falling). More than five per cent of these men had vertebral fractures that had caused height loss and spine deformity, yet 94 per cent were unaware of their fractures.

Men with a vertebral fracture were more than twice as likely to report a poor quality of life compared with men who did not have a fracture.

Julie Pasco, the lead study researcher, says it is important to detect vertebral fractures because they indicate the man may need treatment for osteoporosis to reduce the risk for more serious problems such as breaking a hip.

She says the newer types of bone density scanners can detect hidden vertebral fractures if a scan is done with the man lying on his side.

Osteoporosis Canada recommends a bone density scan for anyone age 65 and older.

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