Osteoporosis:  New Patient Group Is Men After Age 50


Bone-health experts are making a new push to reduce rates of osteoporosis, with a particular focus on controlling the bone-wasting disease in men.  An important goal is to get greater numbers of men to be tested for osteoporosis when they come to a hospital or clinic with a fracture to the wrist, vertebrae or other bones that wasn’t from a major accident or trauma.  Doctors call this a fragility fracture: one that results from a decrease in bone density.


Women are about three times as likely as men to be tested using a bone-density scan after suffering a distal-radial fracture, or broken wrist, a common warning sign of osteoporosis, which is commonly thought of as a women’s disease.  That said, as many as 1 in 4 men in the U.S. over the age of 50 will break a bone as a result of the condition, more than will have prostate cancer.  The disease is also a common cause of hip fractures, and men are twice as likely as women to die in the year after suffering a broken hip.


Bone tissue is always breaking down.  When it isn’t replaced fast enough, bone becomes less dense and prone to breakage, even with a relatively minor fall or bump.  Tests for osteoporosis include a bone-density scan, a type of x-ray of the hip, wrist or spine, and blood or urine tests to check vitamin D levels.  Bone density gradually declines as people age and especially for women after menopause.  Factors like family history and lifestyle contribute to people’s risk for getting osteoporosis.  Some medications, such as corticosteroids, or androgen-depriving therapy for prostate cancer, and some underlying medical conditions also can promote the condition.


When osteoporosis isn’t too severe, or the patient is relatively young, doctors may recommend calcium or vitamin D supplementation, diet changes or more weight-bearing exercise, which strengthens bones.  People with a greater risk of future fractures may be put on medications called bisphosphonates, which slow bone breakdown and slightly increase bone mass.  Bisphosphonates, sold under brand names such as Fosamax and Actonel, can be highly effective.  But because of some possible, rare side effects (an unusual type of fracture of the thigh bone and a deterioration of the jaw bone), the medication isn’t often prescribed for more than five years.


Many men think they can’t get osteoporosis.   But it is important to understand your risk and the options for protecting bone density as you age, regardless of gender.  For more information, please talk with your physician or Registered Dietitian.


Dana Wechsler Linden