Men Get Osteoporosis Too!

Medical experts say men may shy away from seeking medical treatment for disorders they feel are unmasculine. In support groups, men use terms like "very scared" and "ashamed" to describe initial feelings about their illnesses. Others express frustration at the difficulty in finding information and therapy.

What do these men have in common? They all suffer from illnesses typically thought of as "women's diseases." Breast cancer, osteoporosis, and eating disorders all occur in men, too, though their prevalence is much greater in the female population. As a result, many men, unaware that the diseases affect both sexes, may fail to recognize symptoms. Likewise, doctors and families often don't suspect these illnesses. This can delay therapy and make disorders difficult to treat.

Osteoporosis in Men

High on the list of such conditions is osteoporosis. Though women are four times more likely to acquire it, about 5 million men in this country have osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. A disorder in which bones become weakened, osteoporosis is sometimes called the "silent disease" because it has no symptoms. It often manifests itself in fractures of the hip, wrist, spine, and other bones. Among both sexes, it is responsible for 1.5 million fractures a year. Scientists are still piecing together just how osteoporosis develops, but it is well known that a key factor is deficiency of the mineral calcium.

About 99 percent of the body's calcium is stored in bones and teeth. Bone is continually being broken down and rebuilt. If the amount of calcium absorbed equals the amount lost, a state of balance occurs. When calcium absorption is greater than losses, the body accrues a "positive balance" that it can use for bone growth and repair. But when dietary intake of calcium can't meet the body's needs, the body draws the mineral from bones to allow a constant bloodstream supply. Ultimately, the breakdown process can exceed deposits, causing a possible reduction in bone mass and density.

Osteoporosis is seen less often in men than in women for several reasons. Men generally have greater bone mass than women, and in males, bone loss begins later and advances more slowly. But men do have a hormonal drop-off in testosterone similar to women's reduction of estrogen after menopause. Testosterone may diminish as a result of hypogonadism, a condition marked by decreased function of the testicles. Testosterone levels may naturally become lower as a man ages.

Factors that raise the risk of osteoporosis include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Lack of exercise
  • A diet low in calcium
  • Poor nutrition and poor general health.
  • Malabsorption (nutrients are not properly absorbed from the gastrointestinal system) from conditions such as Celiac Sprue
  • Chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic hepatitis C, an infection of the liver
  • Immobility, such as after a stroke, or from any condition that interferes with walking
  • Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. When vitamin D is lacking, the body cannot absorb adequate amounts of calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency can result from lack of intestinal absorption of the vitamin such as occurs in celiac sprue and primary biliary cirrhosis.
  • Certain medications can cause osteoporosis. These include heparin (a blood thinner), anti-seizure medications phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and long term use of corticosteroids (such as Prednisone).

Though osteoporosis cannot be cured, it can be slowed down and steps can be taken to prevent it. Osteoporosis treatment and prevention measures are:

  • Life style changes including:
    • quitting cigarette smoking,
    • curtailing alcohol intake,
    • exercising regularly, and;
    • consuming a balanced diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D.
  • Medications that stop bone loss and increase bone strength, such as risedronate (Actonel), and calcitonin (Calcimar).

For more information, please visit the following areas:

Portions of the above information has been provided with the kind permission of the Food and Drug Administration Consumer Online Magazine (www.fda.gov).


Last Editorial Review: 10/16/2002




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