Vertebral Fractures in COVID-19 Linked to Mortality

Miriam E. Tucker

October 29, 2020

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Vertebral fractures appear to be common in people with severe COVID-19, and also raise the mortality risk, findings from a retrospective cohort suggest.

Among 114 patients with COVID-19 who underwent lateral chest X-rays at the San Raffaele Hospital ED in Milan, more than a third were found to have thoracic vertebral fractures. And, those individuals were more than twice as likely to die as were those without vertebral fractures.

"Morphometric vertebral fractures are one of the most common comorbidities among adults hospitalized with COVID-19, and the presence of such fractures may predict the severity of disease outcomes," lead investigator Andrea Giustina, MD, said in an interview.

This is the first study to examine vertebral fracture prevalence in any coronavirus disease, but such fractures have been linked to an increased risk of pneumonia and impaired respiratory function, including restrictive pulmonary dysfunction. One possible mechanism may be that they cause anatomical changes, such as kyphosis, which negatively impact respiratory function by decreasing vital capacity, forced expiratory volume in 1 second, and inspiratory time, explained Giustina, professor of endocrinology, San Raffaele Vita Salute University, Milan, and president of the European Society of Endocrinology. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Clinically, the findings suggest that all patients with COVID-19 who are undergoing chest X-rays should have morphometric vertebral X-ray evaluation, said Giustina.

"One interesting aspect of the study is that without morphometry, approximatively two thirds of vertebral fractures [would have been] missed. Therefore, they are largely underestimated in clinical practice," he noted.

Thoracic Vertebral Fractures Assessed Via Lateral Chest X-rays

The 114 study subjects included were those whose lateral chest X-rays allowed for a high-quality assessment and in which all the thoracic tract of T4-T12 were viewable and assessable. None had been using glucocorticoids and only 3% had a prior diagnosis of osteoporosis.

The majority (75%) were male, and median age was 57 years. Most (79%) were hospitalized after evaluation in the ED. Of those, 12% (13) were admitted to the ICU and 15% (16) died.

Thoracic vertebral fractures were detected on the lateral chest X-rays in 36% (41) of the patients. In contrast, in studies of women aged 50 years and older from the general European population, morphometric vertebral fracture prevalence ranged from 18% to 26%, the investigators noted.

Of the total 65 vertebral fractures detected, 60% were classified as mild (height ratio decrease <25%), 33.3% as moderate (25%-40% decrease) and 7.7% as severe (>40%). Patients with more than one vertebral fracture were classified by their most severe one.

Those with versus without vertebral fractures didn't differ by sex, body mass index, or clinical or biological parameters evaluated in the ED. But, compared with those without vertebral fractures, those with them were significantly older (68 vs. 54 years) and were more likely to have arterial hypertension (56% vs. 30%) and coronary artery disease (22% vs. 7%).

In multivariate analysis, age was the only statistically significant predictor of vertebral fractures (odds ratio, 1.04; P < .001).

Mortality Doubled, Though Not Significantly

Those with vertebral fractures were more likely to be hospitalized, although not significantly (88% vs. 74%). There was no significant difference in ICU admission (11% vs. 12.5%).

However, those with vertebral fractures required noninvasive mechanical ventilation significantly more often (48.8% vs. 27.4%; P = .02), and were more than twice as likely to die (22% vs. 10%; P = .07). While the difference in overall mortality wasn't quite statistically significant, those with severe vertebral fractures were significantly more likely to die, compared with those with mild or moderate fractures (60%, 7%, 24%, respectively, for severe, moderate, and mild; P = .04), despite no significant differences in clinical or laboratory parameters.

"Our data from the field reinforce the need of implementing previously published recommendations concerning the importance of bone fragility care during the COVID pandemic with at least those patients already treated with antiosteoporotic drugs maintaining their adherence to treatments including vitamin D, which have also been suggested very recently to have no relevant predisposing effect on COVID-19," Giustina and colleagues wrote.

Moreover, they added, "continuity of care should also include bone density monitoring despite very restricted access to clinical facilities, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, all patients with fractures should start antiresorptive treatment right away, even during hospital stay."

The authors reported having no disclosures.

SOURCE: Giustina A et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020 Oct 21. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa738.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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