Using data from the UK Million Women Study, Emily Banks and colleagues investigate the relationships between the incidence of hip fracture and a woman's age, menopausal status, and age at menopause.
Bone mineral density is known to decrease rapidly after the menopause. There is limited evidence about the separate contributions of a woman's age, menopausal status and age at menopause to the incidence of hip fracture.
Methods and Findings
Over one million middle-aged women joined the UK Million Women Study in 1996–2001 providing information on their menopausal status, age at menopause, and other factors, which was updated, where possible, 3 y later. All women were registered with the UK National Health Service (NHS) and were routinely linked to information on cause-specific admissions to NHS hospitals. 561,609 women who had never used hormone replacement therapy and who provided complete information on menopausal variables (at baseline 25% were pre/perimenopausal and 75% postmenopausal) were followed up for a total of 3.4 million woman-years (an average 6.2 y per woman). During follow-up 1,676 (0.3%) were admitted to hospital with a first incident hip fracture. Among women aged 50–54 y the relative risk (RR) of hip fracture risk was significantly higher in postmenopausal than premenopausal women (adjusted RR 2.22, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.22–4.04; p = 0.009); there were too few premenopausal women aged 55 y and over for valid comparisons. Among postmenopausal women, hip fracture incidence increased steeply with age (p<0.001), with rates being about seven times higher at age 70–74 y than at 50–54 y (incidence rates of 0.82 versus 0.11 per 100 women over 5 y). Among postmenopausal women of a given age there was no significant difference in hip fracture incidence between women whose menopause was due to bilateral oophorectomy compared to a natural menopause (adjusted RR 1.20, 95% CI 0.94–1.55; p = 0.15), and age at menopause had little, if any, effect on hip fracture incidence.
At around the time of the menopause, hip fracture incidence is about twice as high in postmenopausal than in premenopausal women, but this effect is short lived. Among postmenopausal women, age is by far the main determinant of hip fracture incidence and, for women of a given age, their age at menopause has, at most, a weak additional effect.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Anyone can break a hip but most hip fractures occur in elderly people. As people age, their bones gradually lose minerals and become less dense, which weakens the bones and makes them more susceptible to fracture. Because women lose bone density faster than men as they age and because women constitute the majority of the elderly, three-quarters of hip fractures occur in women. Hip fractures can cause long-term health problems and premature death. Thus, although surgical repair of a broken hip usually only requires a hospital stay of about a week, a quarter of elderly people who were living independently before their fracture have to stay in a nursing home for at least a year after their injury and a fifth of elderly people who break a hip die within the year. Most hip fractures are caused by falls. Regular exercise to improve strength and balance combined with review of medicines (to reduce side effects and interactions), regular eye examinations, and the removal of fall hazards from the home can help to prevent hip fractures in elderly people.
Why Was This Study Done?
Bone density decreases very rapidly in women immediately after menopause—the time when menstruation permanently stops—and then continues to decrease more slowly with age. Most women have their menopause in their early 50s but menopause can occur in younger women. Early menopause is thought to be a risk factor for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and fractures later in life but little is known about how menopause influences hip fracture risk as women age. In this prospective study (a type of study in which a group of people is followed for several years to see whether they develop a particular condition), the researchers investigate the incidence of hip fractures in relation to age, menopausal status, and age at menopause among the participants of the Million Women Study. This study, which recruited 1.3 million women aged 50–64 years who attended UK breast cancer screening clinics between 1996 and 2001, has been investigating how reproductive and lifestyle factors affect women's health.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
At enrollment and three years later, the study participants provided information about their menopausal status and other health and lifestyle factors likely to affect their fracture risk. From these data, the researchers identified more than half a million women who had never used hormone replacement therapy (which reduces fracture risk) and who had given complete information about their menopausal status. They then looked for statistical associations between the occurrence of a first hip fracture in these women over the next few years and their age, menopausal status, and age at menopause. Among women aged 50–54 years, postmenopausal women were twice as likely to have a hip fracture as premenopausal women. Among postmenopausal women, the incidence of hip fractures increased steeply with age and was seven times higher in 70–74-year olds than in 50–54-year olds. Women who had their menopause before age 45 had a slightly increased risk of hip fracture but any effect of age at menopause on the risk of hip fracture was small compared to the effect of age itself, and the slightly increased risk may have been due to other factors that could not be fully accounted for in the analysis.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that around the time of menopause, although hip fractures are rare, the risk of a fracture in postmenopausal women is twice that in premenopausal women. The findings also show that among postmenopausal women, age is the major determinant of hip fracture risk and that for women of a given age, their age at menopause has little effect on hip fracture risk. Women attending breast cancer screening clinics and completing questionnaires about their health may not be representative of the general population. Furthermore, these findings rely on women self-reporting their menopausal status accurately. Nevertheless, the results of this study suggest that clinicians advising women about hip fracture prevention should probably base their advice on the woman's age and on age-related factors such as frailty rather than on factors related to menopause. Clinicians can also now reassure elderly women who had an early menopause that their risk of hip fracture is unlikely to be higher than that of similar women who had a later menopause.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000181.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has detailed information about hip fractures
The US National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoloskeletal and Skin Diseases has an interactive feature called “Check up on your bones and provides detailed information about osteoporosis, including advice on fall prevention
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet about hip fractures among older adults
MedlinePlus has links to resources about hip fracture, osteoporosis, and menopause (in English and Spanish)
More information on the Million Women Study is available