Many women fail to recognise they are at risk of developing the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, a survey finds.
People with osteoporosis have bones which fracture easily
A poll of 1,683 European women aged over 50 found 47% do not consider themselves at risk.
However, research suggests that the disease will lead to one in three breaking a bone.
The International Osteoporosis Foundation and the European Institute of Women's Health commissioned the research.
It is predicted that, without effective prevention strategies, the number of fractures caused by osteoporosis will at least double in the next 50 years as the average age of the population continues to grow.
Already the disease is estimated to cost the European Union more than 4.8bn euros a year in hospital costs alone.
But the survey found that just 25% of women over 50 had taken steps to have their bone health checked.
Professor Jean-Yves Reginster, of the IOF, said: "The results of this new survey are disturbing.
"It seems that the women surveyed do not connect knowledge about osteoporosis with the reality that they might personally be at risk.
"We have a significant educational task in front of us to reverse this perception that 'it can't happen to me'."
According to the survey, approximately 4.3m women aged 50-74 in the nine survey countries have suffered from at least one bone fracture since their 50th birthday as a result of a very minor fall.
Of those who had suffered more than one fracture, less than a quarter (24%) were taking a prescribed medication for osteoporosis.
Despite awareness of osteoporosis and the consequent risk of fractures, very few women over 50 understood the debilitating effect the disease could have on their lives.
Just 28% understood that the condition could leave them crippled, and only 2% considered the condition could lead to death.
Research has shown that up to one in five women who suffer hip fractures die within one year due to consequences of these fractures.
It is also estimated that half of those who suffer hip fractures lose the ability to walk independently, and up to a third become completely dependent on caregivers.
As bone loss occurs without symptoms, osteoporosis can go undiagnosed and untreated for years until one or several fractures have occurred.
In France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, less than half the women with osteoporosis are diagnosed.
Few women who took part in the survey had their height or weight regularly checked, despite the fact that can be key to assessing the risk of osteoporosis.
And only a small minority knew that vitamin D could play an important role in building strong and healthy bones.
Peggy Maguire, director general of the European Institute of Women's Health, said: "Osteoporosis can greatly reduce women's ability to live active and independent lifestyles, which in turn has a huge impact on society.
"Given Europe's ageing population, particularly the number of older women, it is essential to continue to educate women of all ages about this disabling and neglected disease."
The survey was conducted in Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.