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Do You Need a Specialist for Osteoporosis?

Isabel Johnson, age 64 years old, picked up a brochure on osteoporosis at her local pharmacy. What she read about the “silent disease” concerned her. She learned that she had several of the risk factors: she had gone through menopause at an early age, and her mother had suffered several fractures in her seventies and eighties.

Isabel called her neighbor, a registered nurse, who suggested that she discuss her concerns with a doctor. Isabel wondered how to find a doctor with expertise in osteoporosis.

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For many people, finding a doctor who is knowledgeable about osteoporosis can be difficult. There is no physician specialty dedicated solely to osteoporosis, nor is there a certification program for health professionals who treat the disease. A variety of medical specialists treat people with osteoporosis, including internists, gynecologists, family physicians, endocrinologists, rheumatologists, physiatrists, orthopaedists, and geriatricians.

There are a number of ways to find a doctor who treats osteoporosis patients. If you have a primary care physician or a family doctor, discuss your concerns with him or her. Your doctor may treat the disease or be able to refer you to an osteoporosis specialist.

If you are enrolled in an HMO or managed care health plan, consult your assigned physician about osteoporosis. This doctor should be able to give you an appropriate referral.

If you do not have a personal physician or your doctor cannot help, you should contact your nearest university hospital or academic health center and ask for the department that cares for patients with osteoporosis. The department will vary from institution to institution. For example, in some facilities, the department of endocrinology or metabolic bone disease treats osteoporosis patients. In other medical centers, the appropriate department may be rheumatology, orthopedics, or gynecology. Some hospitals have a separate osteoporosis program or women’s clinic that treats osteoporosis patients.

Once you have identified a doctor, you may wish to ask whether the physician has specialized training in osteoporosis, how much of the practice is dedicated to osteoporosis, and whether he or she uses bone mass measurement.

Your own primary care doctor – whether an internist, orthopaedist, or gynecologist – is often the best person to treat you because she or he knows your medical history, your lifestyle, and your special needs.

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