When many Americans hear the word osteoporosis, they typically envision a frail, stooped-over elderly woman. But osteoporosis does not discriminate between genders. According to WebMD, approximately 2 million men in the United States have osteoporosis, while another 12 million are at risk and may already have low bone density, also known as osteopenia. Sadly, because the disease is so closely associated with women, many men who have osteoporosis don't even realize that they have it, and so they may not seek out the treatment that could slow down the progression of their osteoporosis.
This is truly a huge problem, as osteoporosis can actually be deadly. Studies have shown that men who suffer hip fractures -- a common injury that occurs in people with osteoporosis -- are twice as likely to die afterwards than women who have the same fracture.
What Males are More at Risk?
In general, men have larger bones than women, which is one of the reasons why osteoporosis typically affects more females than males in their fifties. But between the ages of 65 and 70, females and males begin losing bone mass at about the same rate. So age is definitely a risk factor and is becoming increasingly so as the population ages. In addition to age, though, these are some of the other factors that can make a male more susceptible to osteoporosis:
- Low testosterone.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol.
- Vitamin D deficiency.
- Certain medications, including glucocorticoids, which are commonly used in the treatment of asthma.
- Certain diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and Cushing's syndrome.
- Have a family history of osteoporosis.
In addition, a man's race can also be a factor. White males, for example, are more likely to than other races to develop osteoporosis.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is known as a "silent" disease, meaning that many men don't discover that they have weak bones until a fracture occurs. However, some men may notice the following symptoms first:
- Loss of height. As humans age, osteoporosis can actually cause the spinal column to shorten, according to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
- Changes in posture. A stooped-over appearance could be a sign of bone loss.
- Pain in the back. Constant pain may be a sign of a fracture in the back.
If a man believes that he may have osteoporosis, he should consult with his doctor so that he can undergo testing, which might include x-rays and a non-invasive bone mass measurement study. Then if the results of tests show that a man does have osteoporosis, his doctor will likely:
- Recommend and/or prescribe Vitamin D, calcium supplements and medications. A doctor may, for example, recommend that a patient start taking bisphosphonate, which will help increase the density of a patient's bones.
- Recommend that the patient exercise. Engaging in physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercises, can help to strengthen a man's bones.
- Possibly reduce the strength of other medications. For example, if a man has been using a glucocorticoid, the doctor may choose to lower the dosage.
- Continually monitor a patient's bone density. A physician may recommend that a patient be seen every one to two years for a bone density scan.
- Recommend that a patient make certain lifestyle changes. These changes might include such things as quitting smoking or cutting back on alcohol consumption.
In addition, men who have low testosterone levels may also be prescribed testosterone replacement therapy, which could come in the form of a skin patch, a gel or may be given through an injection.
Make No Bones About It
As the population ages, it is likely that more males will be having to deal with osteoporosis and its side effects, such as brittle or broken bones. So it's important that men pay attention to possible signs that they may be suffering with osteoporosis or osteopenia and seek help as soon as possible, if necessary, from their doctors.