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Osteoporosis is a serious condition in which bones become thin, brittle and easily broken. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that more than 55 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density placing them at risk for osteoporosis. This represents 55% of the people aged 50 and older in the United States.

While the majority (80%) of persons affected by osteoporosis are women, one in eight men also suffers from the disease. This rate is expected to increase as men live longer. Similarly, while osteoporosis is more prevalent in Caucasian and Asian populations, African-Americans and Latinos are also at significant risk of developing the disease. Osteoporosis is called the "silent disease" because people do not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, a fall, or even a sneeze can cause a fracture.

The most common fractures associated with osteoporosis include wrist, vertebral and hip fractures. It is estimated that half of all women and 20 percent of all men will have an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime. In the United States, 300,000 hip fractures occur each year in persons age 65 and older. The majority of these hip fractures are associated with a fall in an individual with osteoporosis.

The disability associated with osteoporosis-related fractures places heavy demands on the health care system. The estimated national direct expenditures (hospitals and nursing homes) for osteoporotic and associated fractures was $19 billion in 2005 ($52 million each day) and the cost is rising.

The outlook for persons experiencing a hip fracture is particularly alarming:

  • 20% of hip fracture patients may require long-term nursing home care.
  • 50% never regain their ability to walk independently, and up to 20% die within one year due to complications of the fracture or accompanying surgery.
  • Approximately 33% of people are totally dependent on others for their care following hip fracture.

Osteoporosis is a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences. Peak bone mass is built during our first three decades. Failure to build strong bones during childhood and adolescent years manifests in fractures later in life.

Osteoporosis is both preventable and treatable.  Steps can be taken at any age to prevent or minimize the effect of osteoporosis.

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