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“Don‘t break a hip!” – a new screening program could reduce the number of hip fractures

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Posted December 24, 2017

“Don‘t break a hip” – that’s what we say when someone is climbing a chair. A simple joke is less funny when you find out that every year 79,000 people in UK alone suffer hip fractures. Most of these people are older women. Now scientists say that regular screenings for osteoporosis could prevent more than a quarter of these incidents.

Hip fractures are painful, can lead to other health problems and significantly reduce person’s independence. Image credit: Deutsche Fotothek‎ via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

The ultimate goal is to offer preventive treatment before these fractures have time to occur. Scientists say that a simple questionnaire with a bone density measurement could reveal who needs that treatment to avoid a painful injury in the near future. This research included more than 12,000 women aged 70 to 85. Scientists found that regular screening through GP practices lead to a 28% reduction in hip fractures over five years in the women who agreed to participate. However, it is also important to note that screening did not reduce the number of other osteoporosis-related fractures.

One in seven women deemed at high risk of hip fracture was recommended a treatment to help preventing the fracture. However, over three quarters of the women screened were later put on medication to treat their deteriorating bone density. These are great results, which could affect hundreds if not thousands of people around the world. For now this strategy is only trialled in UK, but, we can imagine, it could be adapted to healthcare systems of other countries as well. Now scientists are estimating that one hip fracture could be prevented for every 111 women screened. Not only this would be a cost-effective solution, but it would also allow people to live independently for longer.

This study was a collective effort by a number of science institutions of UK. It was led by the universities of East Anglia and Sheffield and involved researchers from five other universities including Manchester, Birmingham and York. A 100 primary care practices were involved as well. Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, said: “Tens of thousands of people a year present with hip fractures in the UK.  As well as significantly increasing mortality, a hip fracture can stop a person’s ability to live independently, with 43% no longer being able to walk independently in the year after the fracture”.

Scientists so far are not talking about further steps of the study. However, they will likely include development of the screening program to increase its response or include other types of osteoporosis-related fractures.

Source: University of York

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