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Women with postmenopausal osteoporosis are concerned about developing a stoop (commonly known as curvature of the spine or hyperkyphosis) and shrinking in height but accept that it is just part of getting old, according to a new European survey. The survey also found that almost three quarters (73 per cent) of the women questioned would be very self-conscious if they developed a curved spine.

What many women don’t realize is that these problems are often due to osteoporosis, a progressive disease that commonly leads to height loss, and often has serious consequences including spine deformity or stoop, if not effectively treated.

To help raise awareness of this condition, a new visual guide called “Stop the Stoop” has been launched in conjunction with the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) and Professor Dieter Felsenberg, a world-leading expert on osteoporosis, which aims to draw attention to the serious implications for women with post-menopausal osteoporosis who do not take action to manage their condition effectively.

One such serious outcome is that 30-50 per cent of women will suffer a fracture related to osteoporosis in their lifetime.iv Some of these women could experience multiple vertebral (spinal) fractures, which can result in significant height loss, and eventually a stoop as their condition progresses. Although progression of a stoop and height loss can be slowed down, or even avoided, with effective osteoporosis treatments, many women are still not taking their medicine properly, or are stopping treatment completely, for example, due to unwanted side-effects, leading them to be at increased risk of postural complications.

“Due to the silent nature of osteoporosis it can be difficult to tell if a treatment is working. Therefore it is essential that women with osteoporosis are aware of the important role that treatment plays from the beginning, and also over the longer-term, in preventing vertebral fractures and the devastating consequences these fractures can have,” said Professor Dieter Felsenberg, Director, Center for Muscle and Bone Research, Charité – University Medicine Berlin, Free & Humboldt-University Berlin.

“The visual guide features a patient who is not taking appropriate treatment and has had eight vertebral fractures in a four year period. As a result, she may lose up to ten centimetres in height and may suffer severe chronic pain from the curvature of her spine.

Unfortunately this is a reality for patients who do not actively manage their osteoporosis and the consequences can be potentially life-threatening in a relatively short period of time.”

Vertebral fractures are often “silent” and without any symptoms when they first occur, and can result from simple day-to-day activities, such as carrying heavy shopping bags or doing household chores. More than two-thirds of vertebral fractures are undetectedii with numerous repetitive fractures leading to severe disability and chronic pain.

The European survey of 622 women with post-menopausal osteoporosis found that height loss is feared by almost two thirds (64 per cwent) of respondents. In addition to the physical impact of a fracture, these women are concerned about how perceptions of them might change as a result of changes in their appearance caused by fracture. The survey found that a common perception of women with a curved spine is that they are ‘fragile’ and ‘vulnerable’, yet over one in five (21 per cent) are unaware that not taking their treatment could result in the height loss and stoop they fear. Worryingly, 39 per cent of women surveyed would not tell their doctor if they stopped taking their tablets, which could increase their risk of vertebral fracture.

“Women need to be aware that height loss and stoop caused by fractures often can be avoided if proper measures are taken to maintain strong bones after diagnosis of osteoporosis,” said Daniel Navid, Chief Executive Officer at the IOF. “By staying on appropriate treatment, people with osteoporosis can continue to lead an independent and active life.”

The survey found that 65 per cent of women, given the choice, would prefer to take tablets less frequently. Taking effective treatment is the best way for women with post-menopausal osteoporosis to protect their bones.