New Method Detects Cause of Shrinkage

Vertebral fractures may indicate
osteoporosis; © Picture Disk

Dr. Kerry Siminoski, an endocrinologist at the University of Alberta, 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 centimetres 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 centimetres 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 disease, 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 centimetres or more you should go to your doctor and check it out," he added.

The researchers also found that if a patient loses two centimetres or more over a period of one to three years then there is a greater than 40 per cent chance that a vertebral fracture is the cause of the height loss, and an X-ray to check should be prescribed.

"Of course these numbers may be modified for specific patients – they aren't set in stone. All that we've done here is create a guideline," Siminoski said.; Source: University of Alberta