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Hip Fractures in the Elderly

Hip Fractures in the Elderly

Hip fractures are quite common in the elderly, as people tend to lose bone density with advancing age. The various causes, symptoms, and the treatment of this condition are discussed in this article.
Chandramita Bora
Hip fractures can no doubt occur at any age, but the elderly, especially those older than 65 years are more likely to break their hips easily. In fact, old age is a major risk factor for this type of fracture. The gradual loss of bone density is responsible for increasing the risk of fractures in seniors. A fracture of the hip can involve the hip joint or the four proximal femurs.
Hip fractures are classified into three types - femoral head fracture, femoral neck fracture, and intertrochanteric fracture. When the fracture involves the femoral head, it is known as femoral head fracture. A femoral neck fracture refers to the fracture near the femoral head in the neck, between the head and the trochanter. The intertrochanteric fracture, on the other hand, is a fracture that occurs between the greater and the lesser trochanter of the intertrochanteric line.
Causes
A fall or a blow to the hip joint or the side of the hip can cause a fracture of the hip. The risk of a fracture due to such injuries increases with advancing age, as the bones start to lose minerals. The loss of bone density coupled with a decline in the sense of balance, slowed reaction time, and weak muscles are the factors that can make an elderly more susceptible to get hip or other types of fractures easily.
It has been observed that elderly women are more likely to suffer from this type of fracture than elderly men. Women are more likely to suffer from the loss of bone density or osteoporosis after menopause, due to a significant drop in the level of the hormone estrogen. Osteoporosis can be considered one of the most common risk factors for fractures, including that of the hip.
Apart from these, nutritional deficiencies, especially a deficiency of vitamin D, as well as calcium, can raise the risk of fractures in the elderly. Metabolic bone diseases, such as osteomalacia and Paget's disease can also increase the risk of fractures. Some other possible causes are, lack of physical activity, use of certain medications, excessive consumption of alcohol, bone tumors, and tobacco smoking. Arthritis is another condition that can adversely affect movement, and thereby, increase the risk of falling and sustaining an injury to the hip.
Signs and Symptoms
This condition is almost always accompanied by severe pain and an inability to bear weight on the legs. The pain is felt in the hip or the groin area. Apart from the pain, immobility and stiffness or swelling in and around the hip area, are some other signs of this condition. The leg on the broken side of the hip can also turn outward. But sometimes, a fracture of the hip may not produce significant pain.
Diagnosis and Treatment
It is usually detected with the help of an X-ray and CT or MRI scan. The condition can be treated with medications and rehabilitation, though surgery can also be required at times. In fact, surgery is the most effective and commonly used treatment option for this type of fracture. The type of surgery depends on the type of fracture, i.e., the part of the hip that is fractured. Sometimes, hip replacement can also be required for treating this condition. Surgery is often followed by rehabilitation, which basically includes physical therapy, in order to accelerates the process of recovery.
Medications are usually given for strengthening the bones by increasing bone density, which can help reduce the risk of fractures in the future. However, medications alone cannot prevent this condition. For preventing hip and other types of fractures in old age, it is important to exercise regularly. The weight-bearing exercises, like walking can be immensely beneficial for the elderly. Along with physical activity, make sure that the diet contains enough vitamin D and calcium. Otherwise, supplementation can be required. Also important is to lower the risk of a fall, which can be done by properly arranging the furniture in your home, keeping electrical cords in proper place, removing unwanted rugs, installing proper lighting, and getting your eyes checked up at regular intervals.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.