Are you gradually becoming shorter? Some loss of height with age is normal. Find out whether you’re losing height too fast – and what it could mean.
Are you shorter now than you were years ago? Some loss of height with age is normal in both men and women. Height loss occurs because the discs that lie between the vertebrae in the spine shrink as a person grows older. The average loss of height from normal aging is about 3- 4 centimeters – with women losing a little more and men losing a little less. On the other hand, too much height loss could be a sign of a serious problem.
Loss of Height Can be a Sign of a Fractured Vertebra
According to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, too much loss of height could be a sign of a fractured vertebra, one of the bones that supports the spine. After looking at the loss of height with age of over 8,600 older women, they found that women who had a height loss of greater than 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) were at higher risk of having an undiagnosed vertebral fracture. The risk was even greater in women who had a history of a past fracture of any type, back pain, and who were older.
Height Loss is Associated with Other Problems as Well
This study also showed that loss of height with age is correlated with other health problems including decreased mobility and a higher mortality rate. Obviously, it’s important to monitor height closely with aging. It’s easy enough to measure your current height, but what if you don’t know how tall you were as a young adult?
How to Estimate Your Height as a Young Adult
To get a rough estimate of what your maximum height was as a young adult. Stretch your arms out to each side and have someone measure the length from the middle fingertip of one hand to the middle fingertip of the other. This is an estimate of your maximum adult height – which can be compared to your current height.
If you have a height loss of 4 centimeters or more, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for an evaluation. Even if you show no sign of a fractured vertebra on x-ray, it’s important to talk about risk factors for osteoporosis and whether or not you need a bone density study to look for osteoporosis.
The Bottom Line?
It’s not uncommon to lose height with age, but too much can be a sign of a fractured vertebrae or osteoporosis. Keep an eye on how your height and make sure your doctor checks it at each visit.
Medscape.com website. “Height Loss in Older Women May Signal Vertebral Fracture”.