Fragility Fractures and Osteoporosis

What are fragility fractures and why should I be concerned? A fragility fracture is a bone fracture that occurs as the result of such minor accidents as slipping or falling from a standing height or lower. It can occur even from such normal activities as picking up an object or rolling over in bed or coughing. The fracture occurs because a person's bone strength has been reduced to very low levels by the accumulated loss of bone mass over time.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately one in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have a fragility fracture. In the U.S. alone, over one million fragility fractures occur every year. These fractures — mainly at the hip, wrist, or spine — can dramatically reduce your quality of life, leading to a loss of mobility, independence, disability and sometimes, even death. One in five seniors who break their hip will die within one year, and for many of those who survive, long-term nursing home care is required. Fragility fractures are not just a women's issue — of the 300,000 hip fractures that occur each year in the U.S., 100,000 occur in men.

Fortunately, a combination of lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and prescription medication in some cases, can reduce the risk of a fragility fracture by over 50%. That’s why it’s very important to identify your risk of a fragility fracture before a fracture ever occurs. Knowing your risk of fracture will enable you and your physician to take the necessary steps to reduce your risk.

How can I tell if my bones have weakened? Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that happens when you lose too much bone mass over time. It is often called a "silent disease" because you can’t feel your bones getting weaker. Breaking a bone is often the first sign that you may have osteoporosis. Typically, a clinical test measuring how much bone mass you have — expressed as a measurement of bone mineral density or "BMD" — is used to determine if your bones have weakened and to assess your risk of fracture. Osteoporosis is clinically defined as when your BMD measurement falls below a certain level. If you are age 65 or older and have osteoporosis, you are considered to be at high risk of having a fragility fracture.

While a measurement of BMD is the current standard clinical test for identifying who has osteoporosis, it doesn't fully characterize your bone strength and therefore misses identifying the many people who are at high risk of fracture even though they do not have osteoporosis-levels of BMD. This is because bones have complicated shapes and vary internally in their composition and thus their strength depends on a number of structural factors other than just the BMD. Learn more about how VirtuOst differs from the standard BMD test.