Break a Hip--Lose your Life? The Risk to Women of Brittle Bones
Sticks and stones may break my bones, and then what? You probably figure that your body will eventually heal itself...and mend your fracture. A few months off your feet, then a bit of physical therapy, and then it's back to normal. Or is it? Do women really rebound quickly after a major fracture?
Over the past quarter century, bone health has become more and more a core essential of women's health. We're taught as young women to take our vitamins, make sure we include extra calcium and vitamin D to help ward off the effects of osteoporosis. Stay active, take those supplements, and keep those bones good and strong so we don't end up frail and weak in our golden years.
Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine highlights the sometimes dire consequences of major fractures in women. A prospective study which took place over twenty years looked at women in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Oregon. It examined women who had fractured their hip, and matched these subjects with controls who had no such fracture. The findings were startling. It found that women over age 65 were five times more likely to die in the year following a hip fracture as their matched controls. One of the study authors, Erin LeBlanc, commented on the nature of the finding. "You'd think a 65-to-69 year-old would be more able to bounce back from a hip fracture", LeBlanc said.The researchers also found that nearly half the deaths occurred three months after the hip fracture, and three quarter of the deaths occurred within six months. It is unclear why this relatively younger age group had such a rate of mortality after hip fracture. It has been hypothesized that there's something about breaking a hip in particular — whether it's the surgery, hospitalization or immobility — and not an underlying health problem that may increase mortality.
The research underscores the need for preventative measures to avoid the dire consequences which often occur with hip fractures. Osteoporosis is a silent disease, often unnoticed until a bone is broken. Regular screening using bone density tests are important tools to help monitor a woman's risk of osteoporosis. Risk factors for osteoporosis include Asian/Caucasian descent, low weight, smoking, long-term corticosteroid use, lack of exercise, and early menopause (before age 45). Simple lifestyle behaviors can help to maintain bone density. These include regular exercise, modest sun exposure (for production of vitamin D in the skin), calcium intake in the diet, and supplementation with calcium and vitamin D.
Hip Fracture X-Ray Image Courtesy of Clint