Osteoporosis Myth: Osteoporosis Doesn't Cause Serious Health Problems
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Reality: Osteoporosis and bone disease often result in painful and debilitating fractures. These injuries can have significant long-term consequences, leaving the individuals with chronic pain, loss of height, and impaired ability to do the things they need to do to care for themselves, such as dress, bathe, walk, and take care of their household.
Many osteoporosis fractures -- about 300,000 every year -- are hip fractures, which are particularly dangerous and debilitating. One in four hip fracture patients over age 50 die within a year after the fracture, often from related complications such as a pulmonary embolism or pneumonia. And one in five of those who could care for themselves prior to the broken bone require nursing home care afterward. Only one-third of patients with hip fracture return to their previous level of functioning.
Osteopenia is a term used to describe bone density that is somewhat lower than normal -- but not low enough to be diagnosed as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which thinning bones become so fragile that they are prone to fracture easily. A person who has osteopenia is at risk for osteoporosis and may benefit from treatments to strengthen bone.
Even more osteoporosis fractures -- 700,000 every year -- are vertebral fractures, which are breaks in the bones that make up the spine. Many times, people with vertebral fractures do not even realize that they have them. But even though these fractures may be "silent," they can do serious damage, leading to chronic pain, decreased lung function, loss of height, and a condition called kyphosis, commonly called "dowager's hump." Vertebral fractures also increase the risk of a hip fracture.
Unfortunately, many people with osteoporosis do not realize they have the disease, so they are not getting treatments that could help them lower their risk of fracture. Even once someone has had a fracture, they may not understand the importance of prevention. A Harvard study has shown that four of five older patients with hip or forearm fractures do not fill a prescription for an osteoporosis medication during the six months after the broken bone. Men and minorities, in particular, are less likely to receive the treatment they need.
Although fractures from osteoporosis can take months to heal, sometimes the pain can continue after the healing process is over. There are many options for managing pain, including: