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Fractured Facts

Campaigns raise awareness about link between osteoporosis and bone breaks

SATURDAY, July 14, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Every 20 seconds, osteoporosis causes a fracture in the United States. That's 4,110 fractures every day, 1.5 million every year.

Despite those statistics, 71 percent of women who have osteoporosis haven't been diagnosed, and many others -- women and men -- don't realize that breaking a bone is often a warning sign of this bone-thinning disease.

"People aren't acquainting osteoporosis with fractures," says Lynn Chard-Petrinjak, chairwoman of a new National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) campaign that seeks to educate people about the link between breaks and osteoporosis.

In the United States, 10 million people have osteoporosis and another 18 million have low bone mass, which places them at increased risk for the disease. One-in-two women and one-in-eight men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime, says the NOF.

Few people recognize the serious -- even deadly -- effects these fractures can have on their lives. According to the NOF, here are some of the facts:

  • Fractures can lead to chronic pain and loss of independence.
  • A hip fracture can be life-threatening: One of every five people with a hip fracture doesn't survive more than a year.
  • In people 65 and older, 90 percent of hip fractures among women and 80 percent among men can be attributed to osteoporosis.
  • Osteoporosis is a factor in about 700,000 spinal, or vertebral, fractures each year.
  • Almost 20 percent of women who have a spinal fracture will have another one within a year. Multiple spinal fractures result in collapsed vertebrae, stooped posture, loss of height, chronic pain and disability, loss of independence, and can cause compression of the lungs and stomach.

"A lot of times with a vertebral fracture there will be some back pain and they'll think, 'Oh, I pulled something.' They won't realize that it's an actual fracture. The majority of vertebral fractures go undiagnosed because there's usually not a traumatic event associated with them,'' Chard-Petrinjak says.

"It could be something as simple as rolling over and getting out of bed. Or coughing could actually lead to the fracture," she says.

Another osteoporosis-awareness campaign launched by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) includes educating doctors about the need to check women for osteoporosis.

"There have been studies that have shown that when a woman goes to an emergency room with a fracture, say of the wrist, her chances of being tested for osteoporosis are about 1-in-5, at best," says Dr. Stephen F. Hodgson, co-chairman of the AACE's Osteoporosis Task Force and an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

An AACE survey of 100 primary-care physicians revealed that although 97 percent considered themselves knowledgeable about osteoporosis, only 38 percent said they always told patients age 50 and older that a low-trauma fracture may be a sign of the disease.

Hodgson says women concerned about osteoporosis should insist on a bone-density test from their doctors. Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are a number of effective treatments.

What To Do

By age 20, the average woman has acquired 98 percent of her skeletal mass. Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis, the NOF says. It offers four steps to prevent osteoporosis:

  • A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D;
  • Weight-bearing exercise;
  • A healthy lifestyle with no smoking or excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Bone-density testing and medication when appropriate.

For more information on osteoporosis, go to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, or the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

SOURCES: Interviews with Lynn Chard-Petrinjak, National Osteoporosis Foundation, Washington, D.C.; Stephen Hodgson, M.D., co-chairman, AACE Osteoporosis Task Force, and endocrinologist, the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
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