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Osteoporosis Myth: Osteoporosis Doesn't Cause Serious Health Problems

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 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.

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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. Many people may believe that if they have osteoporosis, they will just have to live with osteoporosis pain. That isn't true. There are many options for managing pain, including:

  • Medications
  • Mind-body techniques such as guided imagery, biofeedback, and relaxation training
  • Physical therapy options such as acupuncture, acupressure, and massage therapy
  • Heat and ice

Ask your doctor about what might help you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on June 15, 2012

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