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Few Treated for Osteoporosis; Many at Risk

New Options Available to Prevent Broken Bones Caused by Osteoporosis

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.

Preventing Potentially Disabling Falls

Aside from drug treatment, Douglas Kiel, MD, MPH, director of medical research at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged in Boston, says there are many other low-tech ways to help prevent falls and broken bones in people with osteoporosis.

Common fall prevention strategies include:

  • Muscle strengthening of lower extremities through exercise
  • Medical assessment, including vision, gait, and balance testing
  • Home evaluation: Check for potential dangers at home, such as dim hallways, obstacles, and slippery area rugs
  • Tai chi: Studies have found the traditional Asian exercise practice can improve balance and improve muscle strength
  • Stop use of unnecessary drugs that may increase the risk of falls, such as sleeping pills
  • Protective garments: Specially designed garments are being investigated to help protect bones in people at risk for falls.

"Falling is not inevitable," says Kiel. "There are many ways through nutrition, exercise, fall prevention, and protecting bones with passive garments that might help reduce falls and fractures."

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