Vertebral fractures are the most frequent of the fractures associated with osteoporosis, yet little is known of their impact on health in the United States. To aid in this understanding, the authors examined the survival rate of 335 residents of Rochester, Minnesota, who had an initial radiologic diagnosis of vertebral fracture between 1985 and 1989. Seventy-six died during 809 person-years of follow-up. The overall survival rate was worse than expected, and diverged steadily from expected values throughout the course of the study. At 5 years after diagnosis, the estimated survival was 61% compared with an expected value of 76% (relative survival = 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.70-0.92). The 5-year relative survival after a hip fracture in Rochester was a comparable 0.82 (95% CI 0.77-0.87), but there was a much greater excess of deaths within the first 6 months as compared with patients with vertebral fractures. The 5-year relative survival rate after a distal forearm fracture was 1.00 (95% CI 0.95-1.05). Clinically diagnosed vertebral fractures are rarely fatal, and the reduced survival seen subsequently could related to comorbid conditions. Nonetheless, the excess mortality should be accounted for in assessing the public health impact of osteoporosis.