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Fragility Fractures

Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because it has no symptoms in its early stage. In fact, bone fracture is often the first indication of osteoporosis. Fractures caused by osteoporosis are typically called fragility fractures fractures that occur as a result of a relatively minor injury or blow, such as falling from standing height or less. The most common sites of fragility fractures are the vertebrae, hip, wrist and shoulder. Osteoporosis is a contributing factor in as many as 1.5 million fractures each year.

Fractures of the hip are among the most debilitating and costly consequences of osteoporosis. Among those at greatest risk for hip fracture are women over age 65. Slender, small-boned women may be more prone to such fractures than are large, heavy-boned women. A family history of fractures in later life is another risk factor. Women who have a low dietary intake of calcium, who smoke, or who drink alcohol excessively are also at higher risk, as are those with arthritis or poor balance, coordination, and eyesight.

In women over age 75, the most commonly performed surgery is repair of a hip fracture. And, although modern orthopaedic surgical techniques and care can assist in healing of the bone, most hip fracture patients require extended periods of rehabilitation. Around one of very four people who have an osteoporotic hip fracture need long-term nursing home care, and virtually all these patients need extended assistance from their families or home care providers. Walking aids may be necessary for several months after the injury, and many patients permanently require canes or walkers to move around their homes or outdoors.

Prevention of hip fractures is far less costly, in both financial and human terms, than treatment after the bone is broken. A diet high in calcium and vitamin D, regular exercise, and the correct medications can help prevent weak bones and the possibility of hip fracture.

Paying attention to home safety is also important, especially for older women. Most of these injuries occur as a result of a fall, and most falls occur in the home. AARP recommends taking the following measures to “fall-proof” your surroundings:

  • Remove the clutter, pick up papers or clothes from the ground, move garbage bins under cabinets.
  • Keep living areas well lit.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Know where your furniture is placed and any stairs or change of entry levels.
  • Clean up any spills.
  • Be sure that your furniture is stable.
  • Use nonslip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors.
  • Secure area rugs with double-faced tape, tacks, or slip-resistant backing.

Return to Section: What Is Osteoporosis?
Return to Bone and Muscle Health Chapter Table of Contents

You can download the entire "Savvy Woman Patient" chapter on Bone and Muscle Health as a PDF.

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