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Patients With Traumatic Bone Fractures Have Low Vitamin D Levels, MU Study Finds

Nutrient plays important role in protecting bones and healing injuries

Research from the University of Missouri has found a majority of patients with traumatic bone fractures have low levels of vitamin D. Because vitamin D, along with calcium, is a necessary component in repairing bone damage, patients with low vitamin D are at higher risk for broken bones that don't heal properly, the researchers said.

"During this study, we found that 77 percent of the orthopaedic trauma patients with fractures we evaluated had insufficient or deficient levels of vitamin D in their bodies," said Brett Crist, MD, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the MU School of Medicine and an orthopaedic surgeon at MU Health Care's Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center. "Based on that evidence, my colleagues and I have begun prescribing vitamin D medication for nearly all our patients with bone fractures as a protective measure to reduce the risk of healing problems."

Brett Crist
Brett Crist, MD

The researchers reviewed vitamin D levels of approximately 900 adults treated between January 2009 and September 2010, who had suffered traumatic fractures of arms, legs and other bones through incidents such as car crashes and falls. They found that approximately 76 percent of women and 79 percent of men in the study had vitamin D levels less than the recommended amount, and approximately 40 percent of those women and 38 percent of the men had severely low vitamin D levels, considered deficient.

"One interesting finding of the study is that low and deficient vitamin D is common for orthopaedic trauma patients of all ages," Crist said. "We found that among young adults 18 to 25 years old, nearly 55 percent had low or severely low vitamin D, and 29 percent had deficient levels."

Because high levels of vitamin D can be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease or cancer, he encourages patients to talk with their doctors before using vitamin D supplements.

"More research is needed to demonstrate whether vitamin D medications can reduce the risk of bones not healing properly," Crist said. "But we know vitamin D is required for repairing damage to bones, and for most people there is very little risk in taking vitamin D medications. At this point we believe it's a reasonable step for physicians to prescribe the medication as a protective measure."

For patients with low vitamin D, Crist prescribed 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D2, also called ergocalciferol, weekly for eight weeks or until the patient's vitamin D levels returned to normal. In addition, he prescribed 1,000 IU of vitamin D3, also called cholecalciferol, and 1,500 milligrams of calcium until the patient's fractures healed.

The study, "Incidence of Vitamin D Deficiency in Orthopaedic Trauma Patients," has been presented at several orthopaedic conferences, including the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' annual meeting.

MU Health Magazine


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