Thought you were safe from osteoporosis because you’re a guy? Think again. Osteoporosis is not just a women’s disease. In fact, one in eight males will develop an osteoporosis-related fracture in his lifetime.
When you’re young, your bone is constantly changing—old bone is removed and replaced by new bone. Osteoporosis occurs when new bone is not generated quickly enough to replace old bone, leading to decreased bone mass and a weakened skeleton. This weakening, in turn, leads to an increased susceptibility to fractures. While more women than men develop osteoporosis, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it still poses a significant threat to millions of men in the U.S.
Why do fewer men than women develop the disease? Men have larger skeletons—meaning more overall bone mass—and don’t undergo the same bone-loss-causing hormone changes that women deal with during menopause. Bone loss in men starts later and progresses more slowly. However, because men are living longer these days, osteoporosis has become an important public health issue.
While osteoporosis in women is generally age related, most men develop the disease for different reasons. Some of the risk factors that have been linked to osteoporosis in men include:
- Smoking, excessive alcohol use, low calcium intake, and inadequate physical exercise
- Chronic diseases that affect the kidneys, lungs, stomach, and intestines or alter hormone levels
- Regular use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids
- Low levels of testosterone
A “silent disease,” osteoporosis progresses without symptoms until a fracture occurs. Those fractures most often are in the hip, spine, and wrist and can be permanently disabling. Hip fractures, in particular, are dangerous, as men who sustain hip fractures are more likely than women to die from complications.
In men, all too often osteoporosis isn’t diagnosed until a fracture occurs. If you have any of the lifestyle risk factors for developing the disease, or you experience a loss of height or change in posture, a fracture, or sudden back pain, tell your doctor. When detected before significant bone loss has occurred, osteoporosis can be treated with medication, improved nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes. If you think you may be at risk for osteoporosis, make an appointment with your Emory physician for a medical workup and bone mineral density test.
Do you have osteoporosis, or do you know someone who does? How are you dealing with it? We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.