Few Treated for Osteoporosis; Many at Risk
New Options Available to Prevent Broken Bones Caused by Osteoporosis
March 26, 2004 -- Bent backs and broken bones don't have to be
a normal part of aging. Researchers say recent advances in the prevention and
treatment of osteoporosis not only slow the bone-thinning disease, but they can
also help rebuild your bones.
The problem is, only a fraction of those at risk for the
disease are ever screened for osteoporosis, and most learn they have the
disease only after suffering a broken hip or spine. Worse yet, when someone
suffers a major fracture, only about one in five are offered treatment by their
doctors that might reduce their risk of future fractures.
To help clear up this confusion on osteoporosis and the risk of
broken bones, the American Federation for Aging Research sponsored a briefing
with several osteoporosis experts today in New York City.
"Most people think of bone as something static, but it's
really a lot like your bank account," says Jesse Roth, MD, who moderated
the briefing. "There are a lot of deposits and withdrawals being made, even
though the balance may stay the same."
Roth says the same applies to your bones because a constant
process of bone remodeling occurs with mineral deposits being added and
removed. As people age, the deposits slow down and the withdrawals speed up,
which causes the bones to weaken and leads to osteoporosis.
As researchers have gained a better understanding of this
process, new treatments have emerged recently that can help keep your bone's
balance in the black and out of the red.
"The target of today's osteoporosis drugs is to up the
positive side or slow the withdrawal, says Roth, who is geriatrician-in-chief
at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.
Who's At Risk for Osteoporosis?
"We're dealing with a very common disorder that has very
significant potential effect on people's lives," says Stuart Weinerman, MD,
director of the metabolic bone disease program at Long Island Jewish Health
System. "An estimated 40% of postmenopausal women are at risk for suffering
a major fracture of the spine of hip caused by osteoporosis in their
Although women face a greater risk of developing osteoporosis,
Weinerman says men's risk tends to be underappreciated. For example, one out of
every five osteoporosis-related hip fractures occurs in man.
But the good news is, doctors have a very effective tool to
screen for osteoporosis, known as a bone mineral density test. The test takes
about five to 10 minutes to complete at a doctor's office and uses low X-ray
energy scans to measure bone density.
"The test can be very predictive of who is going to break a
bone in the near future. Better, for instance, than blood pressure is
predictive of future stroke," says Weinerman.
Although guidelines vary slightly, it's generally accepted that
the following groups should be screened for osteoporosis with a bone density
- Nearly all women over age 65
- Postmenopausal women with at least one other risk factor for osteoporosis,
such as a family member with the disease, smokers, or those who drink
- Older men who have had a previous bone fracture or low testosterone
- Anyone on long-term steroid medication, which can weaken bones