If you think only women are at risk for bone loss, think again.
Many people think that only women get osteoporosis (bone loss). That's a myth. Men and women can both get it.
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and subject to breaks (fractures). These breaks happen most in the hip, spine and wrist.
"Half of women over 60 will have an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime—but so will one-quarter of men over 60," explains Dr. Eric Orwoll, an endocrinologist and expert on men and bone loss at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
Dr. Orwoll also notes that broken hips are generally worse in older men. "As a result of hip fractures, older men are much more likely than women to end up in care facilities—and are two times more likely to die," he says.
Are you at risk?
"Men over the age of 70 are at higher risk for osteoporosis, although it can occur in younger men," says Dr. Preston Peterson, a geriatric medicine specialist at Legacy Medical Group in Portland. "Increased risk of osteoporosis typically happens one or two decades later for men than for women."
According to experts, these factors are related to bone loss in men:
- Getting older—bone loss increases with age
- A history of fractures not caused by serious trauma
- Long-term use of certain medications, such as steroids
- Low levels of testosterone
- Lifestyle habits—smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not having enough calcium in your diet, and lack of exercise
- Family history of broken bones
- Race—white men are at greatest risk, but men from all ethnic groups can get bone loss
Diagnosis, prevention and treatment
The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that bone loss in men is often overlooked. It's especially important for you to let your doctor know if you notice a change in your height or posture or if you have sudden back pain. Your doctor can weigh your risks and give you a complete physical exam. This exam may include a bone mineral density (BMD) test, a type of X-ray to check for bone loss. A BMD test is an easy, quick test that is safe, comfortable and often covered by insurance.
To keep your bones strong, you should:
- Avoid smoking, drink alcohol only in moderation and be physically active.
- Exercise using weights (which can be your body weight) to maintain muscle strength and coordination—and to avoid falls.
- Get enough calcium for your age through healthy eating and taking calcium supplements.
- Take vitamin D.
Check with your doctor to figure out what will work best for you.
Medications help control bone loss
To prevent or treat bone loss, your doctor may prescribe medication along with asking you to change your lifestyle. Some medicines slow down the rate at which you lose bone to keep your bones stronger and reduce the chance that you'll break something. Other medications help you build bone and reduce the chance of broken bones.
Low testosterone can impact bone loss. "Men with low testosterone levels can take supplemental testosterone via gel, patch or injection," Dr. Preston says, "but testosterone can cause prostate enlargement."
If you are worried about bone loss, see your doctor. Bone loss is serious and can cause pain, disability and loss of independence. But if you catch bone loss early, you can treat it or even prevent it.
Published on May 3, 2010; updated on May 6, 2014.