Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue which results in bone breaks. Osteoporosis affects approximately 10 million Americans, with another 44 million at risk by having low bone mass, putting them at increased risk of suffering from a fracture caused by osteoporosis.
Compared to other major chronic diseases, osteoporosis is underrecognized, underdiagnosed, and undertreated, as shown by a report noting up to 2.3 million osteoporotic bone fractures were suffered by approximately 2 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2016. That is more than the number of heart attacks, strokes or new cancer cases that same year. The total annual cost for osteoporotic fractures among Medicare beneficiaries was $57 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to more than $95 billion in 2040, as the population continues to age.
Osteoporosis impacts women more than men (due to bone loss as estrogen levels decrease during menopause), but there are particularly substantial racial and ethnic disparities in fracture incidence, care and deaths:
- African American Medicare beneficiaries have lower osteoporosis screening rates, high hospitalization rates, and higher death rates following a fracture
- Only 4% of African Americans received a bone density test within six months of their fracture (compared to the national average of 8%, both abysmally low rates of screening)
- North American Natives suffered fractures at a rate 20% higher than the national average
As a professional advocate for improving osteoporosis care for the last decade in a variety of non-profit and industry roles, I have worked to improve this screening, diagnosis and treatment gap (having met far too many patients who have suffered fracture after fracture without intervention). I am pleased to recently join Affinity Strategies in support of the US Bone and Joint Initiative to continue this work in support of preventing bone and joint diseases.
My osteoporosis work became personal when my mother broke both elbows about a year ago. After a recent bone density scan and other tests, her physician had recommended no further intervention beyond calcium and vitamin D (despite two fairly recent fractures and bone the density in the osteoporotic range).
Given that May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, there is an opportunity to educate patients on the need to speak with their health care professional about their bone health (particularly if they have had a previous fracture or have other risk factors) and receive appropriate bone density testing and treatment if needed. Both the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation and American Bone Health (two members of the US Bone and Joint Initiative’s Bone and Joint Alliance) have a variety of activities and materials available to educate the general public about osteoporosis and bone health and will actively promote this month of awareness about this impactful and prevalent disease.