Giving hip patients a hand

By John Pastor • Published: February 15th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The pratfall hasn’t evolved much since our primitive ancestors discovered they could get big laughs by tumbling into a tar pit.

Over the ages, loose stones and banana peels may have given way to skateboards and motocross bikes, but the principle of an unexpected crash landing has remained comedy gold.

But for some segments of the population, a sudden fall has never been funny.

In the United States, falls send nearly 300,000 people age 65 and older to the hospital each year … for broken hips alone.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say hip fractures frequently cause long-term disabilities and even lead to death. The toll is expected to rise as the population gets older.

Medical treatments can lower hip fracture risk. Getting plenty of calcium, vitamin D and exercise also helps.

But wouldn’t it be helpful to more accurately identify people most prone to hip fractures, and get them tested and treated for osteoporosis?

Scientists with Karolinska Institute in Sweden analyzed digital hand X-rays with a technique called D-X-R and linked them to patients in a national fracture registry.

They found 122 people who had received hand X-rays before seeking treatment for broken hips. And the patients had significantly lower-than-normal bone density in their hands.

The thinking is patients at great risk for hip fractures could be identified during routine emergency room X-rays.

Researchers say the costs of measuring hand bone density are minimal, especially considering that osteoporosis patients who fall often require surgery, hospitalization, admission to nursing homes and extensive rehabilitation.

This results in billions of dollars in medical costs each year. And one out of five hip fracture patients will die within a year.

That’s no laughing matter.