Jimmy Carter's fall: What happens when you break your pelvis?

Former President Jimmy Carter fell in his home Monday night and fractured his pelvis, according to representatives for the Carter family.

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Carter, 95, was admitted to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, Georgia, for “observation and treatment of a minor pelvic fracture,” the statement issued by the Carter Center in Atlanta read.

“He is in good spirits and is looking forward to recovering at home,” the statement said.

The fall came weeks after Carter suffered another fall in his home that required 14 stitches above his eye.

What happens when you break your pelvis?

Here’s a look at pelvic fractures, symptoms, treatment and who is at risk.

What is the pelvis?

The pelvis is a butterfly-shaped group of bones at the base of the spine, held in place by ligaments.

The pelvis forms a sort of girdle that protects the bladder, intestines and the rectum. The pelvis has a hole in its center.

What is a pelvic fracture?

A fracture in the pelvis is a break in at least one of the bones that make up the pelvis.

A mild fracture, such as the one Carter is said to have suffered, can heal without surgery, usually within a few weeks.

A major fracture is more serious and can be life-threatening, especially if the organs the pelvis normally protects are damaged.

What are the types of pelvic fractures?

Stable: There is one break in the pelvic "ring." The bones stay in place and there is minimal bleeding.
Unstable: There is more than one break in the pelvic ring and bleeding is moderate to severe.

What are the symptoms of a pelvic fracture?

The first symptom following a fall or other injury to the pelvis is pain. The pain is in the groin, hip or lower back. It may be worse when walking if you can walk after the injury. Other symptoms include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the groin or legs
  • Bleeding from the vagina, urethra or rectum
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Difficulty walking or standing

After a pelvic fracture is diagnosed by an X-ray or another imaging test, treatment depends on the severity of the injury.

For minor fractures, treatment generally consists of bed rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or prescription painkillers. Healing can take eight to 12 weeks. Physical therapy and aids to help a patient walk are generally used.

Surgery is not always recommended.

For a severe break, treatment is different. Shock is possible, as is severe internal bleeding and damage to organs. Surgery is needed to stabilize the pelvis.

The surgery includes the use of surgical screws and plates to stabilize the pelvic ring.

Who is at risk?

Most pelvic fractures happen as a result of severe traffic accidents or falls from great heights. Other pelvic fractures are the results of weakened bones – something that happens with bone diseases such as osteoporosis.

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