Osteoporosis and stroke are two totally different medical ailments, but scientists are now finding that they may actually be connected. Some studies looked at the incidence of hip fractures and osteoporosis (marked by a decrease in bone density) in stroke victims, while other studies looked at the incidence of stroke and survival rate in people already diagnosed with osteoporosis. In both cases it seemed that those who suffer from one condition are more likely to suffer from the other.
Stroke and Osteoporosis
Each year more than half a million U.S. residents suffer a stroke and 150,000 of them die as a result. A stroke is caused by the supply of blood and oxygen being cut off to the brain due to a blood clot or brain hemorrhage. In some cases the stroke affects the part of the brain that controls speech, sight and mobility and there may be lasting disability.
Osteoporosis is a disease which causes a decrease in bone density, where bones become brittle and fracture easily. It is caused by a deficiency of calcium or vitamin D, often as a result of hormonal changes during menopause.
Related: Does Green Tea Improve Bone Density?
Study into Fractures in Stroke Victims
Dr. Kenneth Poole, B.M., M.R.C.P. at the Department of Stroke Medicine in Cambridge, UK, carried out an analysis of several studies assessing the risk of hip fractures in people who had suffered a stroke. He found that stroke survivors are significantly more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, which puts them at higher risk of bone fractures if they suffer a fall.
Interestingly, researchers found that stroke victims incur more fractures on the side of the body that has been affected by the stroke than on the unaffected "healthy" side. Their research found that patients who are immobile after having a stroke were likely to develop osteoporosis in the paralyzed limb. Over time, this becomes more widespread throughout the rest of the body.
Scientists found that stroke sufferers are up to four times more likely to suffer a hip fracture than other people. A Swedish study also showed that stroke victims quadruple their risk of suffering a hip fracture compared to non-stroke victims in the same age group.
The average age of a stroke patient is 70, so in most cases they would be more susceptible to falling than younger people, particularly if they have some difficulty walking as a result of the stroke. However, the risk of a bone fracture following a fall was higher than expected, suggesting that these stroke patients already had a higher risk of osteoporosis than normal.
How to Reduce the Risk of Osteoporosis
Dr. Poole, working on behalf of the National Osteoporosis Society, is recommending that anyone undergoing rehabilitation after a stroke should also be considered at high risk of osteoporosis. In his words, "Osteoporosis is a significant complication of stroke". He believes stroke victims should automatically be given bisphosphonates such as Fosamax and Actonel as part of their stroke rehabilitation. These drugs are used to treat osteoporosis by improving bone density and preventing bone loss associated with a stroke.
Another specialist, Eoin Redahan, Director of the Stroke Association, agrees, saying, "Osteoporosis is a complication of limb mobility of any cause. It therefore makes sense that osteoporosis is a significant complication of stroke".
Other ways to lower the risk of osteoporosis without medication include having a diet high in calcium and vitamin D throughout your life, engaging in regular physical exercise, and considering hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women, although this treatment has been shown to carry other serious health risks.