May 01, 2020

When is a broken bone a sign of osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle, meaning bones can fracture far too easily. Activities that are not normally forceful enough to break a bone — such as bending over, falling from a standing height or even coughing — can cause a fracture. This is known as a low-trauma fracture.

Low-trauma fractures are considered evidence of osteoporosis. On the other hand, high-trauma fractures, such as breaking a bone in a car accident, are not historically considered possible signs of osteoporosis. That's because people without osteoporosis could also break bones in a high-trauma situation.

However, some research indicates that high-trauma fractures are more likely to occur in those with osteoporosis. Some studies found that in certain cases, high-trauma fractures may indicate a higher risk of future fractures. This data raises an important question: Should high-trauma fractures in older adults raise suspicions of osteoporosis?

Yes, according to Mayo Clinic experts. They say that the evidence is reasonable and growing to support testing for osteoporosis in older adults who have high-trauma fractures — if they have not been previously screened. The experts point out that osteoporosis screening with a bone mineral density test is easy, low risk and pain-free. A healthy diet, weight-bearing exercise, adequate calcium intake, healthy vitamin D levels and medications can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones.