Doctors develop new measures for bone disease

As we age we can expect to shrink an average of three to four centimeters. Such loss is normal due to shrinkage of the disks within the spine.

However, researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a guide to help doctors determine when height loss is a normal part of aging, and when it is likely due to something else--usually osteoporosis. And the guide could not be simpler to follow.

Dr. Kerry Siminoski, an endocrinologist with the U of A and the Capital Health Authority, said doctors can ask patients what's the tallest height they've ever been, and then measure them to check how much height, if any, has been lost.

When patients are six centimeters shorter than their tallest recalled height then there is a 60 per cent chance the patient's height loss is due to vertebral fractures, Siminoski said, adding that he suggests doctors prescribe X-rays to check for vertebral fractures in all patients who have shrunk six centimeters or more.

Vertebral fractures, which can be painless and hard to detect, are most often a symptom of osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones.

"We call osteoporosis the silent thief--you don't know you have it until you break a bone--usually a big bone like a wrist or a hip," Siminoski said. "But vertebral fractures are indicators of osteoporosis, and because there are a number of drugs that can effectively prevent or mitigate the onset of this diesease, early detection is critical."

"I would like everyone over 50 to know that height loss can relate to vertebral fractures, and if you've lost six centimeters or more you should go to your doctor and check it out," he added.

Siminoski and his research team published the results of their study this month in the journal Osteoporosis International. They arrived at their conclusions after analyzing more than 300 post-menopausal women--the group most susceptible to osteoporosis.

They found the likelihood of vertebral f

Contact: Ryan Smith
University of Alberta

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