While half the fracture-prevention battle is getting people diagnosed with, nearly 80% of older Americans who suffer bone breaks are not tested or treated for osteoporosis. Fractures associated with aging and diminished bone mineral density exact an enormous toll on patients’ lives and cost the health care system billions of dollars annually according to Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. But current gaps in patient education and bone density screening are huge.
“It’s concerning that older patients at risk for fracture are often not screened to determine their risk factors contributing to osteoporosis and patients are not educated about fracture prevention,” said Meryl S. LeBoff, MD, an endocrinologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and chief of calcium and bone section, and professor of medicine, at Harvard Medical School, Boston. “Furthermore, the majority of highest-risk women and men who do have fractures are not screened and they do not receive effective, [Food and Drug Administration]–approved therapies.”
with dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is recommended for all women at age 65 and all men at age 70. But the occasion of a fracture in an older person who has not yet met these age thresholds should prompt a bone density assessment.
“Doctors need to stress that one in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have a fracture in their remaining lifetimes,” Dr. LeBoff said. ”Primary care doctors play a critical role in ordering timely bone densitometry for both sexes.
If an older patient has been treated for a fracture, the main goal going forward is to prevent another one, for which the risk is highest in the 2 years after the incident fracture.”
According to Kendall F. Moseley, MD, clinical director of the division of endocrinology, diabetes & metabolism at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, “Elderly patients need to understand that a fracture at their age is like a heart attack of the bone,” she said, adding that just as cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and blood lipids are silent before a stroke or infarction, the bone thinning of old age is also silent.
Endocrinologist Jennifer J. Kelly, DO, director of the metabolic bone program and an associate professor at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, said a fracture in anyone over age 50 that appears not to have resulted from a traumatic blow, is a compelling reason to order a DEXA exam.
Nahid J. Rianon, MBBS/MD, DrPH, assistant professor of the division of geriatric medicine at the UTHealth McGovern Medical School, Houston, goes further: “Any fracture in someone age 50 and older warrants screening for osteoporosis. And if the fracture is nontraumatic, that is by definition a clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis regardless of normal results on bone density tests and they should be treated medically. There are aspects of bone that we still can’t measure in the clinical setting.”
If DEXA is not accessible, fracture risk over the next 10 years can be evaluated based on multiple patient characteristics and medical history using the online.
Just a 3% risk of hip fracture on FRAX is considered an indication to begin medical osteoporosis treatment in the United States regardless of bone density test results, Dr. Rianon said.