Health A-Z

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There are two main ways to prevent a hip fracture: Maintain bone strength, and prevent falls.

To optimize bone strength, men and women of all ages should exercise regularly and consume enough calcium and vitamin D.

The bones of women are more likely to thin as they age. A special X-ray test, called a bone mineral density test, can identify people with osteoporosis. After menopause, women with risk factors for osteoporosis (including a strong family history of osteoporosis, a bone fracture as an adult, corticosteroid use or smoking) should consider having a bone mineral density test, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Women age 65 and older and men age 70 and older, with or without extra risks for osteoporosis, should also have the test.

If bone density testing reveals low bone density, your doctor may recommend medication. A number of medications are available to prevent osteoporosis, including bisphosphonates (alendronate/Fosamax, risedronate/Actonel, pamidronate/Aredia, ibandronate/Boniva, zoledronate/Reclast), teriparatide (Forteo) and hormone replacement therapy. Because hormone-replacement therapy may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is no longer the first choice to prevent osteoporosis.

A doctor should evaluate people who fall frequently. Some causes of falling can be identified and treated. In some cases, improving home safety can help to prevent falls. Grab-bars, non-slip rug liners, adequate lighting and bedside toilet equipment may be helpful for some people. Your doctor can provide additional advice about how to prevent falls, such as exercises to improve strength and balance.

A relatively new strategy can help to prevent hip fractures even when a person falls. If you have osteoporosis or have had hip fracture, you may consider wearing a pair of hip-protector pads. These shields substantially reduce the risk of fracture when falls occur. They are worn daily, inside a specially designed undergarment.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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