Fragility Fractures Often First Sign of Low Bone Density

Health Minute

For many women, you might not know you’re at risk of getting a fragility fracture until you suffer from one. 

What was once a simple fall from tripping over an area rug can be enough to cause a bone fracture in older women. And for some of us, this kind of injury can send our overall health into a downward spiral that leaves us with not only a fractured bone, but also a fractured quality of life.

Fragility fractures happen when our bone mass is weakened by age or a disease. They can occur from normal activity and put us at a 10 times greater risk of having another fragility fracture, says Jennifer Jerele, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Premier Orthopedics, part of the Premier Physician Network.

“Fragility fractures are most common in women who have osteopenia and osteoporosis, which both occur as we age and our bone density stops accumulating,” Dr. Jerele says. “We accumulate bone density until we hit 30 years of age, and after that we gradually start losing it.

“This especially affects women after menopause. Their bone density tends to drop dramatically unless they make lifestyle changes or begin medication.”

As one of the leading causes of fragility fractures, osteoporosis causes nine million cases worldwide, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH). The most common fragility fractures occur in the hip, spine, and wrist.

Because osteoporosis is a disease that cannot be felt or seen, we don’t always know it is affecting us until we face a fracture, Dr. Jerele says.

The best way to find out if you’re at risk of osteoporosis and fragility fractures is to have a Dexa Scan. The scan can compare the bone density of hip and spine with that of a healthy 25-year-old. This comparison gives a T-score, which helps to guide your treatment or therapy.

Dr. Jerele says we can also play an active role in reducing our risk of osteoporosis and fragility fractures by:

  • Changing the environment – Look for ways to reduce your fall risks at home. Some examples include moving low-lying furniture, securing area rugs, installing bathroom railings, and adding lights, especially for nighttime.
  • Creating a team approach – Talk about your risk for fractures with both your gynecologist and your primary care provider. Don’t be shy about bringing up the topic, and make sure to ask if a Dexa Scan is right for you. Also ask about any medication options that might help strengthen your bone mass.
  • Knowing the risk factors – Talk with your family to learn about any history of osteoporosis or relatives who’ve had fragility fractures. If you these are part of your family history, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risks.
  • Making lifestyle changes – Good nutrition and exercise play a vital role in reducing your risk for fragility fractures. Strive to add weights and strength training exercises into your daily activities. Calcium and vitamin D supplements might also help, but talk to your provider before adding these to your routine.
  • Planning a monitoring routine – Make your bone density a priority just like you would with your breast health. Schedule an annual Dexa Scan around the same time as your yearly mammogram or Pap smear to help you remember. Ongoing monitoring like this can track changes in your bone density.

For more information about fragility fractures, talk with your doctor or visit www.PremierPhysicianNet.com to find a physician.