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Osteoporosis: The Under-recognized Disease

Pierre D. Delmas, MD, PhD
President, International Osteoporosis Foundation
Lyon, France

Osteoporosis is a major public health concern in the developed world. One out eight Europeans over the age of 50 will fracture their spines. Approximately 3.5 billion Euros/year are spent on hospital costs alone as a result of osteoporosis. Last year, the direct health care costs as a result of osteoporotic fractures was $27 billion. Days in hospital as a result of hip fracture exceeded the days in hospital due to breast cancer. Despite these significant effects, a recent study found that only 19% of women with a fracture received treatment for osteoporosis.

Why are so few patients being treated? The International Osteoporosis Foundation conducted a survey in 11 countries (PDF, 1.2 MB) among both physicians and postmenopausal women to investigate women's attitudes towards the disease and physicians'approaches to osteoporosis. The survey found that many factors contribute to this low level of intervention. Women are not aware of their risk, and so do not seek assessment and treatment. Physicians may not consider osteoporosis a high priority compared with other chronic diseases in the elderly. Limited access to densitometers may inhibit diagnosis, and financial or insurance problems may prevent the patient from receiving treatment. In addition, a minority of postmenopausal women are concerned about osteoporosis, most do not receive bone density measurements, and most are not being treated. Typically, spending to prevent osteoporosis is dwarfed by spending on other health care problems, and is minimal in comparison with the costs of managing patients once they have fractured.

Untreated osteoporosis results in unnecessary pain and suffering, increased mortality and severe economic consequences. Women, physicians, and policy makers need to be educated about the risks and costs of osteoporosis, in order to increase the levels of diagnosis and treatment.

Go to slide presentation (PDF, 104 KB)

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