Osteoporosis awareness

Men - just like women - can suffer broken or injured bones as a result of osteoporosis and can benefit from learning about this common malady, says a Stanford University endocrinologist.

"We think of osteoporosis as a disease of older women, but in fact, the National Osteoporosis Foundation says 1 in 8 men over age 50 will suffer a fracture because of osteoporosis, the depletion of bone substance during aging," says Robert Marcus, MD, a Stanford professor of medicine. "Men need to take steps to prevent osteoporosis, or secure a diagnosis and then seek treatment for this condition," says Marcus, who studies and treats men and women with osteoporosis at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and directs the osteoporosis clinic at Stanford University Medical Center.

Marcus says men, especially those over age 50, should be alert to the direct and indirect signs of osteoporosis. "Low hormone levels, including estrogen, could be a possible cause of osteoporosis in some men," he says.

Anemia, fatigue and a decreased sex drive are possible indicators of low hormone levels, says Marcus. A more direct sign of osteoporosis is chronic back pain associated with muscle spasms. This can occur when back muscles are straining to make up for the stooped posture that can result from a spine fracture caused by a weakened bone.

If testing confirms osteoporosis, a prescription bone-strengthening drug may be in order. Doctors don't prescribe estrogen replacement therapy for men because of the unacceptable side effects and because it's not proven that estrogen will help reverse the effects of osteoporosis.

Marcus recommends that men - like women - start an osteoporosis prevention program early. Starting in their teen-age years, men should get plenty of exercise and take in plenty of calcium. Marcus recommends about 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day - the equivalent to roughly four or five glasses of milk. Calcium supplements are an option for men who don't want to drink milk or eat other dairy products.

"Women are four times more likely to suffer from osteoporosis then men, because their bones are less dense to begin with. It's understandable that so much more attention has been paid to osteoporosis among women, which may be all the more reason for men to pay attention to this possibility before it sneaks up on them," Marcus says.


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