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Why Stroke Survivors Should Pay Attention to Bone Health

Other post-stroke concerns mean that bone health is often ignored


People who have had a stroke, and the doctors who treat them, have a lot to be concerned about: regaining mobility and function, controlling risk factors for a second stroke and guarding against depression that can result from a newly limited life.

But there’s another potential consequence that’s not on everyone’s list: osteoporosis.

“We don’t know as much about osteoporosis and stroke as we should,” said Dr. Mark Goldberg, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine in Dallas and neurologist at UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Brain Institute. “As stroke doctors, this is something we should be paying more attention to.”

“Even if it’s just a small fall, they’re just much more likely to break their hip or shoulder.”

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease, more often in women, in which bones become porous and fragile, increasing the risk of fractures. A stroke occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is blocked by a clot or a rupture, killing brain cells and impairing body function, even causing paralysis on one side of the body.

Greater Risk of Fractures

For someone with osteoporosis, a stroke can mean an even greater risk of fractured bones because many stroke survivors lose some balance and mobility, making them more likely to fall.

A Canadian study, for example, concluded stroke patients were 47% more likely than people without a history of stroke to suffer a fracture, a particularly perilous consequence for older people.

“Even if it’s just a small fall, they’re just much more likely to break their hip or shoulder,” Goldberg said. “This is a significant cause of disability.”

Becoming sedentary can make osteoporosis worse. Physical activity is a key factor in maintaining healthy bones, Goldberg said, “and by not moving around, people are likely to lose bone mass. So, after a stroke, you’re (more likely to develop) osteoporosis.”

Need for More Attention to Post-Stroke Bone Health

Despite that, other post-stroke problems seem to take priority.

“When people come for follow-up, they’re asked about blood pressure or heart issues,” said Dr. Angela Cheung, an internal medicine specialist and founding director of University Health Network Osteoporosis Program in Toronto. “Bone health is really on the bottom of the list.”

Cheung co-authored a study of more than 16,000 stroke survivors in Canada over 65, examining whether they were screened or treated for osteoporosis in the first year after the stroke.

Few Stroke Patients Assessed for Bone Health

The results, published earlier this year in the journal Stroke, showed only 5.1% underwent bone mineral density testing. About 15% were prescribed medication for osteoporosis.

Cheung said the study highlights the need for making osteoporosis assessment standard after a stroke.

“At the least we need to ask: ‘Have you fallen and have you had a fracture?’ and then incorporate this in our follow-up care,” she said. “This needs to be on everyone’s radar.”

Goldberg agreed. “People who have had a stroke have a lot of problems that need attention,” he said. “All of a sudden you’re in a different world, and patients and their families are often overwhelmed.”

According to research, about one in five people who have a stroke will have another one within five years.

Neurologists, Goldberg said, tend to be focused on preventing a second stroke by controlling such risk factors as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and an irregular heartbeat.

“This may be part of the reason that the osteoporosis facet of care hasn’t received enough attention,” he said. “But there are good ways to screen for it, and treatments for people at risk.”

Stroke and osteoporosis have another thing in common: an excellent reason to avoid cigarettes.

“Smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis and for stroke,” he said. “So that’s a double whammy.”

(This article previously appeared on American Heart Association News.)

By American Heart Association News
The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. Founded by six cardiologists in 1924, our organization now includes more than 22.5 million volunteers and supporters. We fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide critical tools and information to save and improve lives. Our nationwide organization includes 156 local offices and more than 3,000 employees. We moved our national headquarters from New York to Dallas in 1975 to be more centrally located. The American Stroke Association was created as a division in 1997 to bring together the organization’s stroke-related activities.

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