Part II: Steps You and Your Doctor Can Take
After a broken bone, long-term healing includes preventing another break. And part of that involves identifying any underlying cause of that first break. Most important is testing to find out if your fracture is a consequence of osteoporosis, an underlying condition that puts you at greater risk for future fractures.
The Link Between a Broken Bone and Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis, which means porous bone, is a disease characterized by low bone mass. It makes bones fragile and more prone to fractures, especially the bones of the hip, spine and wrist. According to the National Institutes of Health, osteoporosis is called a "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without symptoms. Unless you've had a bone density test, you may not know that you have osteoporosis until your bones become so weak that a sudden strain, twist or fall results in a fracture.
More than 40 million Americans either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass. The disease can occur in both men and women and at any age, but it is most common in women after menopause. In fact, the majority of all hip and spine fractures among older white women can be attributed to underlying bone fragility, and women near or past menopause who have had a fracture in the past are more likely to experience another fracture. One often-overlooked step you can take is to have an osteoporosis evaluation and then get any needed medical treatment. Here's how.
Talk to your doctor about osteoporosis. During your recovery, ask about whether you'd benefit from an osteoporosis evaluation. Even if your fracture has healed, you can be evaluated and begin taking steps to protect your bones now.
Ask about seeing a specialist. Many different kinds of doctors can evaluate and treat osteoporosis. Start with your primary care doctor or the doctor treating your fracture. He or she probably can conduct the evaluation and may then refer you to a specialist, such as an endocrinologist or rheumatologist, if you require treatment.
Learn about your risk factors. Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis include personal or family history of fractures, low levels of the hormone estrogen or testosterone and the use of certain medications, like glucocorticoids or anti-seizure medications, that may contribute to bone fragility.
Have any needed tests. A bone mineral density (BMD) test is the best way to determine your bone health. This test can identify osteoporosis, determine your risk for fractures (broken bones) and measure your response to osteoporosis treatment. The most widely recognized BMD test is called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA test. The test is safe and painless, a bit like having an x-ray, but with much less exposure to radiation. It can measure bone density at your hip and spine and takes only 15 minutes to complete. For a DXA test, you will be asked to lie on a table while a machine above you measures your bone density. Some private insurance plans will cover BMD tests ordered by your doctor. Medicare also may pay for a BMD test under certain circumstances for women and men age 65 or older. Your doctor and his or her office staff can help you determine if Medicare will cover a BMD test for you.
Next up: In Part III of this series, you'll learn about nutritional supplements and medications to reduce your repeat fracture risk. Check back next week for this installment.