WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) – For older adults, one break all too frequently leads to another. Studies have shown that anyone age 50 or older who suffers a fragility fracture - a bone break sustained in a fall from a standing height or less - is two to five times more likely to experience a second fracture than someone who hasn't had one. The odds that a person who's suffered two such fractures will have a third are even higher.
The underlying cause for the vast majority of these non-traumatic fractures is osteoporosis, a progressive disease that decreases the weight and density of bones, making them more brittle. Osteoporosis doesn't have any obvious symptoms so in most cases it isn't noticed until a fracture occurs and those fractures are anything but rare.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), approximately half of all women and one-quarter of all men will suffer at least one fragility fracture after age 50. There are more than 2 million fragility fractures in the United States each year – more than the number of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer cases combined – with an estimated direct cost of nearly $20 billion. These breaks can significantly damage an individual's quality of life and contribute to other serious health problems, even death.
Despite all that, roughly 80 percent of all older Americans who sustain fractures are neither tested nor treated for osteoporosis. But things are changing.
"Orthopaedics has traditionally focused on fixing the fracture, but we've realized that is only part of our responsibility as physicians," said Dr. Cynthia Emory, an orthopaedic surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Identifying and treating the underlying cause is equally important so we can prevent fractures from occurring and enable our patients to continue doing the activities they enjoy."