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Few Treated for Osteoporosis; Many at Risk

New Options Available to Prevent Broken Bones Caused by Osteoporosis

Who's At Risk for Osteoporosis? continued...

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 test:

  • 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 heavily
  • Older men who have had a previous bone fracture or low testosterone
  • Anyone on long-term steroid medication, which can weaken bones

What Can Be Done?

Researchers say one in five women who have a spinal fracture will have another one in the next 12 months. And a hip fracture also significantly increases the future risk of breaking other bones in the body.

Despite the fact that a previous fracture significantly raises the risk of future fractures, researchers say only about 20% of people who suffer fractures are being offered any medications designed to lower this risk.

But researchers say it's these patients who stand to gain the most from treatment.

"In older women with osteoporosis and a fracture, proper treatment will cut risk of hip and [spinal] fracture by about 50%," says Kenneth Lyles, MD, a professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. And that reduction in risk may be even greater for other types of broken bones.

Recently approved osteoporosis treatments not only have the ability to slow the rate of bone loss, but some can even help regain lost bone mass. Other drugs are also under investigation that may be able to selectively target hormone receptors in the body that strengthen bones without the side effects of hormone therapy.

Dietary changes and supplements to increase intake of calcium and vitamin D can also reduce the risk of fracture.

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