Elderly women with Hyperkyphosis, or "dowager's hump", carry an enhanced risk of early death irrespective of the presence or absence of vertebral osteoporosis.
In a study published in the May 19 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles researchers found that older white women with both vertebral fractures and the increased spinal curvature that results in the bent-over posture characteristic of hyperkyphosis had an elevated risk for earlier death.
Women who had only hyperkyphosis, without vertebral fractures, did not show an increased risk for premature death.
Hyperkyphosis can be caused by a number of factors besides osteoporosis, including habitual poor posture and degenerative diseases of the muscles and intervertebral discs.
"Just being bent forward may be an important clinical finding that should serve as a trigger to seek medical evaluation for possible spinal osteoporosis, as vertebral fractures more often than not are a silent disease," said Dr. Deborah Kado, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery and medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study's primary investigator.
"We demonstrated that having this age-related postural change is not a good thing. It could mean you're likely to die sooner," the expert added.
To reach the conclusion, researchers reviewed data on 610 women, age 67 to 93, from a cohort of 9,704 participants in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures. The participants were recruited between 1986 and 1988 in Baltimore, Md.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Portland, Ore.; and Pennsylvania's Monongahela Valley. Researchers measured spinal curvature with a flexicurve and assessed vertebral fractures from spinal radiographs; they assessed mortality based on follow-ups averaging 13.5 years.
Adjusting for age, as well as osteoporosis-related factors such as low bone density, moderate and severe vertebral fractures, and the number of prevalent vertebral fractures, the researchers found that women with previous vertebral fractures and increasing degrees of spinal curvature were at increased mortality risk from the spinal condition, regardless of age, smoking, spinal bone-mineral density, or the number and severity of their spinal fractures.