Weak bones, from osteoporosis and a variety of other bone diseases, aren't a natural part of aging, Surgeon General Richard Carmona stressed, though the risk of osteoporosis does increase over age 50. But often doctors are just as guilty as their patients in overlooking the risk — even forgetting to check bone density when middle-age or older patients suffer fractures.
"Osteoporosis isn't just your grandmother's disease," Carmona said in releasing the first surgeon general's report on bone health. "You are never too old or too young to improve your bone health."
Women are at particular risk, especially white women. But osteoporosis does affect men, too, and people of all races — a risk that increases over age 50 as it becomes harder for new bone to form.
Osteoporosis is an under-diagnosed disease, because many people don't know their bones are thinning until one breaks, the report notes.
For older people especially, fractures are much more than nuisance: Nearly one in five hip-fracture patients winds up in a nursing home, and their risk of death during the next few months is up to four times greater than that of similarly aged people with healthy bones.
Yet the report found that in one study, only one-eighth to a quarter of patients who had a hip fracture were given a bone-density test to check the severity of their bone-thinning. Also, fewer than a quarter were given calcium and vitamin D supplements to help build up their bones, and fewer than a tenth were prescribed effective osteoporosis drugs.
The new report makes a series of recommendations: