Would you know if you were suffering from osteoporosis? Would your doctor? Maybe not. According to a survey released by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), knowledge about the disease's most visible symptom -- silent bone fractures -- is lacking among both patients and physicians.
Silent bone fractures are "low trauma" injuries -- in women suffering from osteoporosis, fractures of the spinal vertebrae can occur as consequences of bending, walking or even sneezing.
"I had been having back pain for years, my internist was treating me with pain pills for arthritis, it wasn't until I saw a gynecologist that I was diagnosed with three vertebral fractures from osteoporosis," says Francis Harkinish, 84, from Toms River, N.J.
"Bone fractures and the complications that follow are serious consequences of osteoporosis, a condition that is especially common in postmenopausal women," says Nelson B. Watts, M.D., FACE, director of the Osteoporosis Program at Emory University.
"If women and their doctors don't link bone fractures and osteoporosis, many women will continue to go untreated and be at greater risk for subsequent fractures, which often happen within a year after the first," Watts says.
The national survey included over 400 women age 50 and older. Over half of the women did not know that silent fractures were caused by osteoporosis and 21 percent of at-risk women did not know that it causes weak and fragile bones.
Partly to blame are physicians. Of the women surveyed, 48 percent reported that their doctors did not talk to them about their risk. The survey also included 100 family physicians, only 38 percent of whom reported telling women over 50 that fractures can be a symptom of osteoporosis.
"Untreated fractures from osteoporosis may lead to diminished quality of life, disability and even death," says Watts. "In fact, lifetime risk of death associated with an osteoporotic hip fracture is comparable to that from breast cancer."