Osteoporosis: Not Just a Women’s Disease

Osteoporosis: Not Just a Women's Disease

Osteoporosis is not just a women’s disease. Men can suffer disabling fractures and bone loss too. Here’s how to take measures to protect your bones.

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by loss of bone density. It is often miscast as a “women’s disease.” But its incidence among aging males is rising.

Bone mass usually peaks during a person’s twenties. Then, there’s a slow decline as new bone stops replacing the old. It may not be recognized as quickly in men because they don’t have the period of rapid bone loss that follows menopause.

Men tend to have larger frames than women, which lets more bone mass accumulate. Because they have more bone mass, bone loss starts later in men than women and progresses more slowly. But by age 65 or 70, men and women lose bone mass at the same rate.

Why be concerned? Thinning bones can lead to fractures, often in the hip, spine and wrist. Men who have hip fractures are more likely to die from complications than women. Hip fractures are also a leading cause of admissions to nursing homes.

Fracture risks increase as bone mineral density (BMD) decreases. For men 70 or over, regular tests to measure bone density may be advised. The central DXA (Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) test measures the density of the hip and spine. This can be used to predict your future risk of fracture.

Who’s at risk?

Osteoporosis comes on quietly, usually without symptoms. When they do occur, symptoms may include changes in height or posture, or sudden back pain. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of getting it. Risk factors for men include:

  • Certain medications: Some steroids, which have bone loss side effects
  • Low testosterone
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Lack of exercise
  • Too much caffeine
  • Personal or family history of a fracture, especially when a parent had one after age 50
  • Prolonged bed rest or immobilization
  • Certain diseases and conditions

Treatment for thinning bones

Osteoporosis can be treated effectively if it’s found at an early stage. But most men don’t know they have it until the bone loss has advanced. A fracture or back pain may bring them to the doctor. A BMD test may confirm osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis treatment may include drugs, physical therapy, dietary supplements, exercise and lifestyle changes. Starting treatment right after a fracture will lower your risk of more fractures.

Wearing a back brace or corset may provide relief from the pain of vertebral fractures. Long-term bracing should be avoided, though, because it can lead to muscle weakness and loss of conditioning.

Surgery may be an option for men with painful vertebral fractures that don’t respond well to conservative treatment. New techniques can increase support by putting bone cement into vertebrae.

Preventing osteoporosis

A routine of regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises may help cut risks for falls and fractures. This can include posture, balance and resistance training as well as stretching soft tissues and joints.

Other ways that men can preserve bone health include:

  • Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol.
  • Getting at least 1,200 mg of calcium and 200 to 600 IU of vitamin D daily.
  • Seeking treatment for underlying medical conditions, such as celiac disease, chronic renal insufficiency or any disorder that interferes with the absorption of calcium and vitamin D.

Talk to your doctor about any risk factors you have for osteoporosis.

Also tell your doctor if you notice any symptoms of the condition, such as back pain or a decrease in height. An early diagnosis can make for the most effective therapy.

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