you've broken a bone. Only those who have experienced a fracture can
truly understand how painful and debilitating it can be. Recovering from
the fracture should be your first priority. However, you and your doctor
will also want to determine whether this fracture is a symptom of an
underlying disorder, osteoporosis, that puts you at greater risk for
future fractures. If you are over age 50, there is a very
good chance your fracture is related to osteoporosis. This
fact sheet will help you better understand the relationship between fracture
and osteoporosis, so you can take action now to strengthen and protect
Many people are unaware of the link between a broken bone and osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis, or "porous bone," is a disease characterized by low bone
mass that makes bones fragile and more prone to fractures, especially
of the hip, spine and wrist. Osteoporosis is called a "silent disease" because
bone loss occurs without symptoms. People typically do not know that
they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden
strain, twist or fall results in a fracture.
Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for an estimated 44 million
Americans. In the U.S. today, approximately 10 million people already
have the disease and almost 34 million more are believed to have low
bone mass, which leaves them at increased risk for osteoporosis. Of the
10 million Americans estimated to have osteoporosis, eight million are
women and two million are men.
One in two women and one in four men will have an osteoporosis-related
fracture in their lifetime. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates
that at least 90 percent of all hip and spine fractures among older white
women can be attributed to osteoporosis. Moreover, women near or past
menopause who have sustained a fracture in the past are twice as likely
to experience another fracture. Unfortunately, only 5 percent of patients
with osteoporotic fractures are referred for an osteoporosis evaluation
and medical treatment.
I've already had a fracture. Is it too late to talk to my doctor
It is never too late. Ideally, you should talk to your doctor during
your recovery about whether you might be a candidate for an osteoporosis
evaluation. But even if your fracture has healed, you can be evaluated
and begin taking steps to protect your bones now.
What kind of doctor should I see about getting an osteoporosis
There are many different kinds of physicians who can evaluate and treat
osteoporosis. Start with your primary care physician or the doctor treating
your fracture. He or she will likely be able to conduct the evaluation
and may then refer you to a specialist -- such as an endocrinologist
or rheumatologist -- if you require treatment.
What does an osteoporosis evaluation involve?
One thing your doctor will do is ask about your medical history and lifestyle
to determine whether you have risk factors for osteoporosis. Some of
the factors that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis include:
personal or family history of fractures; low estrogen or testosterone
levels, because hormones play a role in bone health; and the use of
certain medications, such as glucocorticoids or anti-seizure medications,
that may contribute to bone fragility. Your doctor also may want to
test your blood or urine, and may suggest that you have a bone mineral
density (BMD) test.
What is a bone mineral density test? Is it painful?
A BMD test is a painless way to measure the density of your bones in
various parts of your body. Several different types of BMD tests are
available. The most widely used is dual energy x-ray absorptiometry
(DXA). The DXA test is popular because it can be used
to measure bone density at multiple sites - the spine, hip and wrist,
which are the most common sites for osteoporotic fractures. The test
is safe and easy, taking only 15 minutes or less to complete. For a
DXA test, you will be asked to lie on a table while a machine above
you measures your bone density.
Some private insurance plans will cover BMD tests ordered by your physician.
Medicare also may pay for a BMD test under certain circumstances for
women and men aged 65 or older. Your physician and his or her office
staff can help you determine if Medicare will cover a BMD test for you.