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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 15:53 GMT
Bone risk higher than thought
X-ray scan
Osteoporosis is a common condition
The fragile bone disease osteoporosis is more widespread in Britain and Europe than thought, research suggests.

The findings come just a few months after the World Health Organisation stated that the disease is reaching epidemic levels.

GPs are discouraged from requesting "unnecessary" X-rays and bone densitometry services are patchy at best

Dr Jonathan Reeve
People with osteoporosis have a much reduced level of bone density.

This makes them vulnerable to painful fractures, most commonly in the wrists, hip and spine.

Results from the largest epidemiological study of osteoporosis in Europe suggest that women are almost 10 times more likely to suffer from the disease than reports from GPs indicate.

Men, who were previously thought to suffer rarely from osteoporosis, have about half the fracture rates of women - but even this proportion is far greater than generally expected.

The study was headed by Dr Jonathan Reeve, of the Bone Research Group at Cambridge University, and Professor Alan Silman, of Manchester University.

They collected data from almost 8,000 volunteers from 18 European countries.

The researchers took spinal x-ray images of men and women aged 50 to 79 from over 30 communities to look for spinal fractures, which are often a major consequence of osteoporosis.


They then followed up these patients about four years later, on average.

The study shows that for every 100 women aged 65, one will suffer from a spinal fracture within 12 months.

For men aged 65, one out of 200 will suffer a spinal fracture within a year.

Previous estimates of the extent of this disease in the UK have been too low

National Osteoporosis Society
By the age of 80, 40% of women and 20% of men can be expected to have suffered an osteoporotic spine fracture.

Once a patient has had a spinal fracture, they have a five-fold higher risk of a second fracture of the spine, and up to a four-fold higher risk of a hip fracture.

Hip fractures alone cost over 1billion per year in the UK.

The researchers are now assessing the role of several key lifestyle risk factors on osteoporosis and the risk of breaking a bone.

Dr Reeve told BBC News Online that osteoporosis was under-reported because it is hard to identify when resources are limited.

He said: "GPs are discouraged from requesting "unnecessary" X-rays and bone densitometry services are patchy at best.

"The best examination the GP can do in the surgery is measure the patient's height and enquire if it has reduced.

"This depends on the patient having a good memory for their height at age 25!"

Charity agrees

A spokesman for the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) said: "We well aware that the fragile bone disease is under recognised.

"This new research clearly shows that previous estimates of the extent of this disease in the UK have been too low.

"We are very pleased to see that modern research methods have shown how widespread a condition osteoporosis is.

"The NOS hopes that this research will help the government see how important it is to fund osteoporosis services and reduce the number of fractures seen everyday."

The research is published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

See also:

15 Dec 01 | Health
Osteoporosis cases 'being missed'
20 Oct 01 | Health
'I felt my spine fracture'
04 Jun 01 | Health
Osteoporosis 'runs in families'
24 Aug 99 | Medical notes
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