Men who aren't concerned about their bone health could be in for a big surprise in later life.
Osteoporosis—often thought of as a woman's disease—represents a threat to the health of millions of American men as they grow older. And, in many cases, men don't know that their bones are at risk.
"Osteoporosis is significantly underdiagnosed and undertreated in men," says Amir Qaseem, MD, PhD, vice president of clinical policy for the American College of Physicians (ACP). "It is not just a woman's disease."
In fact, as many as 1 in 4 men age 50 and older will have an osteoporosis-related fracture, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). These fractures often occur after age 65, when men and women begin to lose bone at about the same rates, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Men at risk
While not every man needs to be tested for osteoporosis, the ACP recommends that men older than 65 be checked periodically by their doctor for risk factors such as low body weight, unplanned weight loss, lack of physical activity and broken bones that were not caused by a substantial trauma, such as a fall.
The following factors may also increase a man's osteoporosis risk, according to the NOF and other experts:
In addition to being aware of risk factors, men should be sure to tell a doctor if they experience loss of height, a change in posture or sudden back pain, as these could be signs of osteoporosis.
Testing for osteoporosis
A bone mineral density (BMD) test is advised for any man at increased risk for bone loss who might benefit from drug therapy, regardless of age, Dr. Qaseem says.
Currently, the most accurate test for osteoporosis is dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). During this painless procedure, x-ray beams penetrate the body to measure BMD.
"DXA results are useful because we have good evidence that treating people who have low BMD values with certain medications can result in decreased fracture rates," says Hau Liu, MD, MPH, who helped develop the ACP screening recommendations for men.
Treatment can prevent or slow osteoporosis when bone loss is detected early. Medications such as alendronate, risedronate and teriparatide are approved to treat osteoporosis in men. And men with low testosterone levels may benefit from testosterone replacement therapy.
Men can also help themselves by taking these bone-sparing steps recommended by the NOF:
"It is really important that people continue to be physically active," says Jeffrey A. Ross, DPM, MD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. "But they need to think logically about how to remain active as they age."
For more information about osteoporosis, visit the Bones health topic center.