Osteoporosis is a disease which causes bone to become thin and more likely to fracture. As part of the natural aging process, bone density decreases. There are several other factors that can accelerate this process. Though osteoporosis has always been considered a disease of women, it is estimated that about 2 million men in the U.S. are affected. Men are fortunate to have thicker bones that protect them from the disease initially, as well as no issue with the rapidly declining hormones that are part of menopause. However, by 65 years of age, men lose bone mass at the same rate that women do. Fractures from osteoporosis are typically in the spine, hips, and wrists and are seriously debilitating and painful. Complications from these fractures are more severe in men because they are generally older when they occur.
Osteoporosis can be the result of certain medications, disease processes, and even poor lifestyle decisions. We call this secondary osteoporosis. Causes of secondary osteoporosis include:
- Excessive alcohol intake.
- Low testosterone level.
- Medications (steroids, seizure medications, immunosuppressants, chemotherapy).
- COPD and asthma.
- Gastrointestinal disease.
- High thyroid levels and high parathyroid levels.
- Rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
- Prolonged immobilization.
To diagnose osteoporosis, your doctor will do a complete history and examination. Blood work and urine testing will occur. Your doctor may also order a DEXA scan, which may seem to you to be a lot like an X-ray, which is a study to measure the density in bones. Unlike women, men are not routinely screened for osteoporosis; therefore, men should notify their physician if they notice a change in posture, height, or develop unexplained back pain.
Preventing osteoporosis should be the goal of treatment and should be done early in a man’s life, not after the bones have become frail. Once again, a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of weight-bearing exercise is a great way to prevent this disease. In your diet, you should consume at least 1000mg of calcium daily until 50 years of age (1200mg afterwards), and add vitamin D. Daily sunlight exposure helps to manufacture vitamin D. In general, vitamin D maintenance supplementation is 2000 units daily. Your doctor may even recommend ordering a level of vitamin D to help with treatment. Also, ask your doctor if any offending medications can be changed. If you already do have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about prescription medications that can help strengthen your bones.