Background: It is well established that vitamin D levels are sub-optimal in the elderly and that adults with fragility fracture are more likely to have serum vitamin D levels either lower than those of control patients of similar age, or below the normal range.

Objectives: To investigate the prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy in an elderly population presenting to the South Glasgow Fracture Liaison Service with non-vertebral fragility fractures in order to assess the extent of the problem.

Research design and methods: The retrospective arm of this study used data from an established database to identify patients aged over 50 years admitted to South Glasgow University Hospitals over the previous 4 years with hip fracture. The prospective arm identified the first 50 patients aged over 50 presenting with a clinical non-vertebral fragility fracture with osteoporosis as measured by axial spine and/or hip DEXA (T-score < -2.5) after November 2004.

Results: In the retrospective arm, 626 patients were identified from the database: mean age 80.5 years; 94% were aged over 60 and 74% were aged over 75. Data analysis was limited to 548 patients aged over 60 years with vitamin D recordings and not receiving supplementation with calcium and vitamin D. The mean vitamin D level was 24.7 nmol/L (9.9 ng/ml) SD = 17, however, it is likely that the true mean is lower since in approximately 25% of cases vitamin D levels were reported as < 15 nmol/L (effectively unrecordable). These were transcribed as 15 nmol/L in order to permit a numerical value to be calculated. In the absence of an agreement on what should constitute a diagnostic serum level of vitamin D inadequacy, a number of thresholds were considered - 97.8% had vitamin D levels below 70 nmol/L and 91.6% had vitamin D levels below 50 nmol/L. There were no significant differences by patient sex, age or season of presentation.

The mean age of patients in the prospective arm was 65.8 years (range 50.6-83.8), 72% were aged over 60 and 16% were aged over 75. The mean vitamin D level was 44.1 nmol/L (18.4 ng/ml) SD = 25.3; 82% had vitamin D levels below 70 nmol/L and 72% had vitamin D levels below 50 nmol/L. Although numbers were too small to justify extensive subgroup analyses, the mean vitamin D level in the 13 patients with hip fracture (34.5 nmol/L) was lower than in the 37 with non-hip fractures (48.2 nmol/L).

Conclusions: This study confirms almost universal vitamin D inadequacy among 548 elderly patients admitted to hospital with hip fracture, regardless of whether a threshold of 50 nmol/L or 70 nmol/L was used. However, among a prospective subset of 50 patients with clinical fragility fractures, especially those with non-hip fractures, the prevalence of inadequacy was substantially lower. It may be that vitamin D represents a correctable risk factor for fragility fracture in the elderly, possibly specifically for the hip.