Men and Osteoporosis

Studies show that about 20 percent of Americans suffering from osteoporosis are men.

When you think of osteoporosis, you probably think of an older woman with brittle bones and a dowager’s hump. True, osteoporosis is a disease that is most common in women. Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80 percent are women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Although women are at greater risk, the reality is osteoporosis is a serious yet often overlooked problem in men. Consider these statistics from the National Osteoporosis Foundation:

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  • Up to one in four men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
  • Approximately two million American men already suffer from osteoporosis. About 12 million more are in a state of relatively low bone mass, a precursor to osteoporosis.
  • Each year about 80,000 men will break a hip.
  • Men are more likely to die within a year of breaking a hip as a result of complications from the fracture.
  • Men can break bones in the spine or break a hip, but this usually occurs at a later age than women.

Many of the factors that put women at risk for osteoporosis apply to men as well:

  • Being over age 50
  • Family history
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Taking steroid medications
  • Decreased levels of hormones

Men face an additional risk: they are less likely than women to get routine screenings or take other preventive measures to reduce their risk for osteoporosis, according to a recent study by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Researchers found that while most women would accept osteoporosis screenings if offered, less than 25 percent of men would. Additionally, women were also more than four times as likely as men to take preventive measures against developing osteoporosis, such as taking calcium and vitamin D supplements to strengthen bones.

That doesn’t surprise Trisha Bentley, RN, clinical educator at Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover. “Men are not the best patients when it comes to getting their recommended screenings,” she says. ”We find that men really don’t come in if they don’t have quality-of-life issues.”

Attitudes toward osteoporosis just make matters worse. “The public perception of osteoporosis is that it’s a ‘female disease’ and that it mainly affects petite people,” she says. “But because men do not do the screenings and are diagnosed later, their complications can be much worse, as with any other disease process.”

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Bentley estimates that men account for about 40 percent of those screened at Bayhealth. “Usually, they’re coming in with a spouse who arranged the appointment or through a referral from their physician,” Bentley says. The actual percentage of men who take the initiative is probably much smaller, she says.

Bentley feels the North Shore-LIJ study was a long time coming and appreciates any messages that would encourage men to pay more attention to their bone health. She urges men to talk with their physicians about devising an appropriate exercise program and to make sure they are getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D in their diets.

“People really have the opportunity to identify their modifiable risk factors and explore non-pharmacological interventions if we can get it early enough,” she says. “But first we have to get them in for screenings.”

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