A hip fracture is a break in the top quarter of the thighbone, which is also called the femur. It can happen for lots of reasons and in many ways. Falls -- especially those to the side -- are among the most common causes. Some hip fractures are more serious than others, but most are treated with surgery.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Each year about 300,000 Americans -- most of them over age 65 -- break a hip.
It happens to women more often than men. That’s because women fall more often and are more likely to have osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones weak.
Other things that increase your chances of a hip fracture include:
- Being underweight
- Not getting enough calcium or vitamin D
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Lack of exercise
- Drinking too much alcohol
Also, distance runners and ballet dancers sometimes develop thin cracks called stress fractures in their hips. They can grow bigger over time if they’re not treated.
Hip Fracture Symptoms
You’ll probably have a lot of pain in your hip or groin. You may be unable to walk. Your skin around the injury may also swell, get red or bruise. Some people with hip fractures can still walk. They might just complain of vague pain in their hips, butt, thighs, groin or back.
If your doctor thinks you’ve got a broken hip, they’ll ask questions about any recent injuries or falls. They’ll do a physical exam and take X-rays.
If the X-ray image is unclear, you may also need an MRI or bone scan. To do a bone scan, your doctor injects a very small amount of radioactive dye into a vein in your arm. The ink travels through your blood into your bones, where it can reveal fractures.
Are Hip Fractures Dangerous?
It depends. They can damage surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, and nerves. If they’re not treated right away, they could affect your ability to get around for long periods of time. When this happens, you run the risk of a number of complications, like:
- Blood clots in your legs or lungs
- Urinary tract infection
- Loss of muscle mass. This puts you at risk for more falls and injuries.
What’s the Treatment?
Usually, you’ll need surgery. The type depends on the kind of fracture you have, your age, and your overall health. But first, your doctor will likely order a number of tests, like blood and urine, chest X-rays, and an electrocardiogram (EKG).
How Can I Prevent a Hip Fracture?
The best way is to make sure your bones stay strong and healthy. To that end, your doctor might recommend one or more of the following:
- Calcium supplements
- Vitamin D supplements
- Drugs called bisphosphonates – these prevent the loss of bone mass
- Regular physical activity
- Giving up tobacco and alcohol
Your doctor may also recommend you take drugs that increase the activity of the hormone estrogen and improve bone density. These are called selective estrogen receptor modulators.
The FDA has approved hip protector garments that can be worn by older people with osteoporosis. It’s thought they may help prevent hip fractures.