Could your husband, or brother, have osteoporosis and not know it? It isn’t often discussed, but men also get this bone-thinning disease that can lead to fractures and disabilities.
The focus has mainly been on women because once they enter menopause, usually around 50, they produce less estrogen and their bones weaken. Men also go through hormonal changes that affect their bones, but they do so about 10 years later.
Since men’s life spans have historically been shorter than women’s, the problem hasn’t been as acute. That is changing as men live longer.
“Due to menopause, a woman’s loss of bone happens earlier and more rapidly,” said Mark Greenawald, M.D., with Carilion Clinic Family Medicine. “But men start to lose testosterone around age 60, and it keeps decreasing as they age.”
Dr. Greenawald is co-author of an article on osteoporosis, along with Carilion physicians Michael Jeremiah, M.D., and Brian Unwin, M.D., and Vincent Casiabi, M.D., of Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson, Colorado. The article was published in American Family Physician.
A Growing Problem
More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, a progressive disease that makes bones fragile and greatly increases fracture risk. It’s estimated that about 20 percent of them are men, and the number is growing.
“Part of the challenge is that we haven’t historically screened men for osteoporosis compared to women,” Dr. Greenawald said. “By the time he’s 60, a man should have a conversation with his physician about his risk factors. When he’s 70, he should at least discuss with his physician whether he should get screened.”
For men under 70, risk factors include:
- Having broken a bone due to trauma
- Past use of corticoid steroids
- A history of heavy alcohol use
- Having smoked
- A lifetime of physical inactivity
“Men still adhere to the adage, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’ ” Dr. Greenawald noted. “I don’t think bone health is on their radar at all.”
What can men do to increase their bone strength? He recommends:
- Get adequate calcium and vitamin D
- Do weight-bearing and resistance exercises
- Don’t smoke
- Drink in moderation
- If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about taking a medication to promote bone health
Dr. Greenawald also suggests using The FRAX® tool, an online calculator that can help men or their family members assess their fracture risks.
After all, broken bones in later life—especially broken hips—can lead to loss of mobility, early admission to a nursing home, or even early death. And none of us wants that.
See which screenings are recommended for men throughout their lives.