Hip Fractures Often Ignored as Sign of Osteoporosis

By Pat Anson, Editor

Most older adults who suffer hip fractures aren't told they may have osteoporosis, despite the fact that hip fractures nearly always signify the presence of the bone weakening disease and can result in serious complications, according to a small survey of patients.

More than 10 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis and 44 million have its precursor, a loss in bone density that raises the risk of fractures and disability.  Studies have found that breaking a bone in your spine or hip may be so traumatic that it doubles your chances of developing chronic widespread body pain.

"You can die after a hip fracture, and you're at great risk of prolonged complications," said Gisele Wolf-Klein, MD, director of geriatric education for Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in New York state.

"You can also be left as an invalid, a fear of many older adults. When we think about how preventable hip fractures are, the fact that most patients aren't told or understand they have osteoporosis - a disease that can be treated - is an enormous problem."

Wolf-Klein and her colleagues surveyed 42 hip fracture patients aged 65 and older, and found a startling level of misinformation and mismanagement surrounding osteoporosis. 

A majority (57%) of patients said their hospital physicians did not recommend osteoporosis medication after treating their hip fracture. One in four patients said they would reject taking the drugs.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those who said they were being treated for osteoporosis were taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, which the Northwell researchers say are "useless" at preventing osteoporotic fractures.

More effective osteoporosis medication - which maintains bone density and lower the risk of a fracture - is available in many forms, including twice-yearly infusions or weekly pills. But the researchers say they're not prescribed as often as they should be.

"There's an enormous amount of misunderstanding about osteoporosis among the public and lack of education from physicians taking care of patients,"  said Stuart Weinerman, MD, an endocrinologist at Northwell Health, "Doctors don't talk about it and the perception is that these osteoporosis drugs are dangerous or not effective. Unfortunately, these misperceptions are just incorrect. So a lot of public education needs to be done, but it should start with physicians."

Lack of effective treatment can lead to additional fractures. Over a third of the patients surveyed sustained a fall within a year, and nearly half (44%) suffered an additional fracture.

"These numbers show the need to improve our overall treatment plan for osteoporosis, which includes fall-prevention education for patients and their families," said Mia Barnett, MD, a Geriatric fellow. "We can definitely get that re-fracture number lower if patients are treated with osteoporosis medications."

A quarter-million Americans sustain a hip fracture each year, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, but less than a quarter are treated for osteoporosis afterwards.

A recent study found that elderly men are far less likely to be screened for osteoporosis or to take preventive measures against the bone-thinning disease than women. The risk of death after sustaining a hip fracture is twice as high in men compared to women.

A large study of over half a million adults, published in the Archives of Osteoporosis, found that men and women who had a spine fracture and women who had a hip fracture were more than twice as likely to experience long term widespread pain.