Staying One Step Ahead of Osteoporosis

Facts about osteoporosis are staggering. Seventy-five million baby boomers are approaching the age where the disease is tightening its grip on their bones. Osteoporosis also contributes to an estimated 1.5 million bone fractures in the United States annually. According to new information presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), new steps to manage bone health and increase communication will significantly help reduce the rate of fractures and increase the quality of life for the aging population.

“Decreasing the rate of hip fractures saves lives, prevents loss of function and decreases costs,” Tad Funahashi, MD, regional chief of orthopedic surgery and assistant area medical director for Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of California Irvine’s College of Medicine, said in a news release. “If we screen for osteoporosis at the earliest onset of the disease we can implement treatment and help to decrease the rate of hip fractures by 45%.”

Osteoporosis is also a huge problem in other parts of the world. In another study, Leonid Kandel, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, looked at improving the diagnosis rate of osteoporosis in post menopausal women, who fracture the distal radius bone, which is located in the lower arm, near the wrist. Kandel says these fractures are often the first clinical symptom of osteoporosis, yet only 15% to 25% of these women are referred for a bone density test by a family physician after the fracture.

“It is important that patients understand the connection between their current problem, the fracture, and the possibility that the underlying cause is osteoporosis.” Kandel said.

He also suggests that there should be a stronger connection and better communication between the hospital and the community. He feels this will increase the number of patients who are diagnosed and treated for the disease.

Francesco Pegreffi, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon in the department of shoulder and elbow surgery at Cervesi Hospital, Cattolica, Italy, along with Lorena Belletti, MD, and professor Maria Teresa Mascia, in the department of rheumatology, University of Modena, Italy, studied a group of patients, 80% women and 20% men, who were affected by rheumatoid arthritis and under vitamin D supplementation.

“We wanted to analyze the correlation between a person’s age, sex, how long they had rheumatoid arthritis, whether they were taking vitamin D supplements and whether they had fragility fractures due to osteoporosis,” Pegreffi said. “We found that women affected by rheumatoid arthritis for more than 3 years were osteoporotic and had a fracture risk significantly higher than those without the disease. Also, vitamin D therapy is not enough to prevent further bone loss and fragility fractures in these patients.”

Men in the study faired much better. Those with rheumatoid arthritis did not have a significant risk of fracture.

Fractures, especially in adults, maybe a tip off or early warning sign, that osteoporosis could be an issue. Many of these are painful fractures of the hip, spine, wrist, arm and leg, which often occur as a result of a fall or even a simple household task. One in two women and one in five men older than 65 years old, will sustain bone fractures caused by osteoporosis.

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