Missed osteoporosis screening puts stroke survivors at fracture risk

By American Heart Association News

Close-up of bone with osteoporosis
(Alfred Pasieka/Science Photo Library, Getty Images)

Stroke survivors are at risk for osteoporosis, broken bones or falling. Yet many aren't screened for such dangers, which may increase the odds they'll suffer fractures, a new study says.

Stroke survivors often have to cope with reduced mobility, which decreases bone mineral density, making bones more fragile. The risk of someone suffering a fracture within a year of having a stroke is up to four times greater than for someone without a history of stroke.

In the new study, published Thursday in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, researchers looked at data from 16,581 stroke survivors age 65 and older who either had visited the emergency department or had been hospitalized for strokes between 2003 and 2013 in Ontario, Canada.

Only 5.1% of those people received bone mineral density testing. One year after their stroke, only 15.5% of them had been prescribed medications to prevent fractures.

"This study offers more evidence that there is a missed opportunity to identify people with stroke at increased risk of fractures, and to initiate treatment to prevent bone loss and fractures," the study's lead author Dr. Moira Kapral, professor of medicine and director of the division of general internal medicine at the University of Toronto in Canada, said in a news release.

The authors noted their study was conducted in a province that provides payment for osteoporosis testing and treatment, so the results may not be generalizable to places without similar health care coverage.

Previous research has shown that, at most, only about one-quarter of older women in the United States are screened for osteoporosis, with treatment rates as low as 30% even in high-risk groups.

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones to the point where they break easily. According to the National Institute on Aging, osteoporosis can strike at any age but is most common among older people, especially older women.

Weak bones mean that a simple fall can cause a break, which can require surgery or, in the case of a hip fracture, result in a lengthy period of immobility.

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