Increased occurrence of spinal fractures related to ankylosing spondylitis: a prospective 22-year cohort study in 17,764 patients from a national registry in Sweden

Patient Saf Surg. 2013 Jan 7;7(1):2. doi: 10.1186/1754-9493-7-2.


Background: Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a rheumatoid disease leading to progressive ossification of the spinal column. Patients suffering from AS are highly susceptible to unstable vertebral fractures and often require surgical stabilisation due to long lever arms. Medical treatment of these patients improved during the last decades, but until now it is unknown whether the annual number of spinal fractures changed during the last years. Since the annual count of fracture is an effective measure for efficacy of injury prevention and patient safety in AS patients, the current recommendations of activity have to be revised accordingly.

Methods: Data for all patients with AS treated as inpatients between 01/01/1987 and 31/12/2008 were extracted from the Swedish National Hospital Discharge Registry (SNHDR). The data in the registry are collected prospectively, recording all inpatient admissions throughout Sweden. The SNHDR uses the codes for diagnoses at discharge according to the Swedish versions of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9 and ICD-10).

Results: During the years from 1987 to 2008 17,764 patients with AS were treated as inpatients; of these 724 patients were treated due to spinal fractures. The annual number of cervical, thoracic and lumbar fractures in the registry increased until 2008 (r = 0.94).

Conclusions: Despite the improved treatment of AS the annual number of vertebral fractures requiring inpatient care increased during the last two decades. Possible explanations are population growth, greater awareness of fractures, improved diagnostics, improved emergency care reducing fatalities, and a higher activity level of patients receiving modern medical therapy. Obviously the improvement of medical treatment did not reduce the susceptibility of these patients to unstable fractures. Thus the restrictive injury prevention recommendations for patients with AS cannot be defused, but must be critically revised to improve patient safety.