Objective: Given the increasing evidence that vertebral fractures are underdiagnosed and not acted on, Osteoporosis Canada and the Canadian Association of Radiologists initiated a project to develop and publish a set of recommendations to promote and facilitate the diagnosis and reporting of vertebral fractures.
Options: The identification of spinal fractures is not uniform. More than 65% of vertebral fractures cause no symptoms. It is also apparent that vertebral fractures are inadequately recognized when the opportunity for diagnosis arises fortuitously. It is to patients' benefit that radiologists report vertebral fractures evident on a chest or other radiograph, no matter how incidental to the immediate clinical indication for the examination.
Outcomes: The present recommendations can help to close the gap in care in recognizing and treating vertebral fractures, to prevent future fractures and thus reduce the burden of osteoporosis-related morbidity and mortality, as well as fracture-related costs to the health care system.
Evidence: Several studies indicate that a gap exists in regard to the diagnosis of vertebral fractures and the clinical response following such diagnosis. All recommendations presented here are based on consensus.
Values: These recommendations were developed by a multidisciplinary working group under the auspices of the Scientific Advisory Council of Osteoporosis Canada and the Canadian Association of Radiologists. BENEFITS, HARM, AND COSTS: Prevalent vertebral fractures have important clinical implications in terms of future fracture risk. Recognizing and reporting fractures incidental to radiologic examinations done for other reasons has the potential to reduce health care costs by initiating further steps in osteoporosis diagnosis and appropriate therapy.
Recommendations: Physicians should be aware of the importance of vertebral fracture diagnosis in assessing future osteoporotic fracture risk. Vertebral fractures incidental to radiologic examinations done for other reasons should be identified and reported. Vertebral fractures should be assessed from lateral spinal or chest radiographs according to the semiquantitative method of Genant and colleagues. Grade II and Grade III fractures as classified by this method should be given the greatest emphasis. Semiquantitative fracture recognition should include the recognition of changes such as loss of vertebral end-plate parallelism, cortical interruptions, and quantitative changes in the anterior, midbody, and posterior heights of vertebral bodies. When spine radiographs are performed to assess the presence of vertebral fractures, anteroposterior examinations may assist in the initial evaluation. The standard follow-up need only consist of single lateral views of the thoracic and lumbar spine that include T4 to L4 vertebrae. The radiographic technique described in this paper, or a technique of comparable efficacy, should be used. Dual X-ray absorptiometry examinations that include lateral spinal morphological assessments (vertebral fracture assessment) may contribute to fracture recognition. Educational material about the clinical importance of vertebral fracture recognition as a potential indicator of future osteoporotic fracture risk with its associated morbidity and mortality should be directed to all physicians.
Validation: Recommendations were based on consensus opinion.