Harvard Women's Health Watch

Eight for 2008: Eight things you should know about osteoporosis and fracture risk

Bone health is every woman's concern. Resolve to make it a priority.

How strong are your bones? You may have no idea — until a bone breaks when you push on a stuck window or bend down to pick up something you've dropped. Fractures resulting from such seemingly innocuous activities — sometimes called fragility fractures — are usually the first symptom of osteoporosis, the skeletal disorder that makes bones vulnerable to breakage even without a serious fall or other trauma.

Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures each year in the United States, almost half of them vertebral (spine) fractures and the rest mostly broken hips and wrists. Hip fractures usually require hospitalization and surgery and often result in permanent disability or the need for nursing home care. Nearly 25% of hip-fracture patients die within a year. Vertebral fractures not only are painful but also cause a stooped posture that can lead to respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. Having any kind of low-impact fracture boosts the risk of having another.

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