Thursday, March 6, 2008

When Osteoporosis Affects Men

The Tulsa World published an article on 3/6/2008 about one of our patients. He was a typical male patient who suffered a vertebral compression fracture.

For ill or good, osteoporosis is often thought of as a disease of women. In fact, one of the major hospitals in Tulsa advertises osteoporosis as an area of focus at their women's health center. It's true that osteoporosis is more commonly seen in women, but why is that?

It comes down to math. Women get osteoporosis earlier and they live longer than men, in general. Let me explain.

Due to several factors, women present with osteoporosis at an earlier age--about ten years before men. For example, in my practice, women tend to present with osteoporosis and its related complications of VCF about age 65 and older. Men don't tend to present until they are in their seventies.

One reason for this discrepancy is overall bone density. Men tend to start out with high bone density than women. In the most simple terms, this is because men tend to be larger than women. While our bones are still growing, the body is actively laying down calcium and other bone minerals. This occurs until about age 25, after which the human body starts to lose bone density.

After that point, it's all downhill. The body slowly loses calcium rather than stores it. Although many factors can increase the rate at which we lose calcium, it is a part of aging. Some things that speed calcium loss are poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, sodas and steroids.

So, although both men and women begin to lose calcium at this point, this reaches a critical level earlier in women. You can think of it like a savings account, where you have calcium instead of money--keep making the same small withdrawals and you run out over time. Since men generally have higher bone mass to start with, it takes them longer to run out.

Add to that, the fact that the life expectancy of women is typically several years longer than that of men, it's no surprise that we see more women with the disease.

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