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May 1 officially marked the beginning of Stroke Awareness Month across the United States. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the nation, killing more than 140,000 people annually. The quality of survivors’ lives can be shattered with long-lasting or permanent complications such as paralysis, speech difficulty, and mental health disorders. While stroke prevention is ideal, survivors among the 795,000 people who have a stroke each year require attentive aftercare to mitigate the inherent risks that they face.

Stroke survivors are up to four times more likely to experience osteoporosis, broken or fractured bones, and falls than healthy individuals. Extensive bone loss frequently comes after a stroke, with the most significant loss occurring in the first year.  Fractures in the hip are the most common and can lead to further disability and mobility loss.

Despite it being a previously-established risk, most stroke patients are not being screened for osteoporosis, according to a study recently published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.  Researchers analyzed the data of 16,581 stroke survivors ages 65 and over and discovered that only 5.1 percent had bone mineral density testing done within a year of their stroke. Only 15.5 percent received post-stroke fracture preventative medication in the same span of time.  Furthermore, researchers found that osteoporosis screening and treatment was more common in younger survivors, females, and individuals who experienced low-trauma fractures within 12 months of having a stroke.

The lead author of the study, Moira Kapral, M.D., M.Sc., FRCPC, described the implications of the study herself, saying that it “offers more evidence that there is a missed opportunity to identify people with stroke at increased risk of fractures, and to initiate treatment to prevent bone loss in fractures.” In other words, it is important that the medical care stroke survivors receive is addressing known risks such like osteoporosis. By doing so, survivors will have the best chance to maximize the quality of their post-stroke lives.

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