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Self-reported falls can predict osteoporotic fracture risk

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Do focus on falls when assessing fracture risk

Fragility fractures remain a major contributor to morbidity and even mortality of aging populations. Concerted efforts of clinicians, epidemiologists, and researchers have yielded an assortment of diagnostic strategies and prognostic algorithms in efforts to identify individuals at fracture risk. A variety of demographic (age, sex), biological (family history, specific disorders and medications), anatomical (bone mineral density, body mass index), and behavioral (smoking, alcohol consumption) parameters are recognized as predictors of fracture risk, and often are incorporated in predictive algorithms for fracture predisposition. FRAX (Fracture Risk Assessment) is a widely used screening tool that is valid in offering fracture risk quantification across populations (Arch Osteoporos. 2016 Dec;11[1]:25; World Health Organization Assessment of Osteoporosis at the Primary Health Care Level).

Aging and accompanying neurocognitive deterioration, visual impairment, as well as iatrogenic factors are recognized to contribute to predisposition to falls in aging populations. A propensity for falls has long been regarded as a fracture risk (Curr Osteoporos Rep. 2008;6[4]:149-54). However, the evidence to support this logical assumption has been mixed with resulting exclusion of tendency to fall from commonly utilized fracture risk predictive models and tools. A predisposition to and frequency of falls is considered neither a risk modulator nor a mediator in the commonly utilized FRAX-based fracture risk assessments, and it is believed that fracture probability may be underestimated by FRAX in those predisposed to frequent falls (J Clin Densitom. 2011 Jul-Sep;14[3]:194–204).

The landscape of fracture risk assessment and quantification in the aforementioned backdrop has been refreshingly enhanced by a recent contribution by Leslie et al. wherein the authors provide real-life evidence relating self-reported falls to fracture risk. In a robust population sample nearing 25,000 women, increasing number of falls within the past year was associated with an increasing fracture risk, and this relationship persisted after adjusting for covariates that are recognized to predispose to fragility fractures, including age, body mass index, and bone mineral density. Women’s health providers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the work of Leslie et al.; the authors’ message, that fall history be incorporated into risk quantification measures, is striking in its simplicity and profound in its preventative potential given that fall risk in and of itself may be mitigated in many through targeted interventions.

Lubna Pal, MBBS, MS, is professor and fellowship director of the division of reproductive endocrinology & infertility at Yale University, New Haven, Conn. She also is the director of the Yale reproductive endocrinology & infertility menopause program. She said she had no relevant financial disclosures. Email her at



A single, simple question about a patient’s experience of falls in the previous year can help predict their risk of fractures, a study suggests.

Doctor with patient Alexander Raths/Fotolia

In Osteoporosis International, researchers reported the outcomes of a cohort study using Manitoba clinical registry data from 24,943 men and women aged 40 years and older within the province who had undergone a fracture-probability assessment, and had data on self-reported falls for the previous year and fracture outcomes.

William D. Leslie, MD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and coauthors wrote that a frequent criticism of the FRAX fracture risk assessment tool was the fact that it didn’t include falls or fall risk in predicting fractures.

“Recent evidence derived from carefully conducted research cohort studies in men found that falls increase fracture risk independent of FRAX probability,” they wrote. “However, data are inconsistent with a paucity of evidence demonstrating usefulness of self-reported fall data as collected in routine clinical practice.”

Over a mean observation time of 2.7 years, 3.5% of the study population sustained at least one major osteoporotic fracture, 0.8% experienced a hip fracture, and 4.9% experienced any incident fracture.

The analysis showed an increased risk of fracture with the increasing number of self-reported falls experienced in the previous year. The risk of major osteoporotic fracture was 49% higher among individuals who reported one fall, 74% in those who reported two falls and 2.6-fold higher for those who reported three or more falls in the previous year, compared with those who did not report any falls.

A similar pattern was seen for any incident fracture and hip fracture, with a 3.4-fold higher risk of hip fracture seen in those who reported three or more falls. The study also showed an increase in mortality risk with increasing number of falls.

“We documented that a simple question regarding self-reported falls in the previous year could be easily collected during routine clinical practice and that this information was strongly predictive of short-term fracture risk independent of multiple clinical risk factors including fracture probability using the FRAX tool with BMD [bone mineral density],” the authors wrote.

The analysis did not find an interaction with age or sex and the number of falls.

John A. Kanis, MD, reported grants from Amgen, Lily, and Radius Health. Three other coauthors reported nothing to declare for the context of this article, but reported research grants, speaking honoraria, consultancies from a variety of pharmaceutical companies and organizations. The remaining five coauthors declared no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Leslie WD et al. Osteoporos Int. 2019 Aug. 2. doi: 10.1007/s00198-019-05106-3.

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