Although osteoporosis overwhelmingly affects women, it’s not just a female problem. Osteoporosis affects more than half of U.S. adults, about a quarter of whom are men, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF).
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About 10 million U.S. adults have osteoporosis, the NOF reports. Another nearly 43 million U.S. adults – half of them men – have low bone mass.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones are brittle and fragile from loss of tissue. The bones are weak and the risk of a fracture is high. Low bone mass is a medical condition that can lead to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis can lead to disability and even death, particularly among older adults. About 20% of patients who break a hip bone die within a year, says rheumatologist Chad Deal, MD.
“This is a disease that causes not only disability, but mortality,” Dr. Deal says. “So for patients with low bone mass, it’s important to receive a physician’s evaluation in order to undergo the appropriate treatments.”
The NOF estimates that half of all women and up to one in four men older than age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Broken bones can lead to pain, difficulty getting around, and a stay in a nursing home.
Not a normal part of aging
Osteoporosis and broken bones do not need to be a normal part of aging. Though it’s expected that you will experience some bone loss with advancing age, the rate of loss varies among individuals and may be influenced by genetic factors and lifestyle choices. You can take action to promote strong bones for life.
The three vital ingredients to bone health are:
- Vitamin D.
The best way to get calcium is from your diet. Foods that contain calcium include dairy products, almonds and green leafy vegetables such as kale and broccoli.
Calcium supplements also are an option. The recommended daily amount of calcium for adults is about 1,200 milligrams, Dr. Deal says.
Vitamin D also is important, as it helps your body to absorb and use calcium. General recommendations for vitamin D range from 800 international units per day (IU) to 1,200 IUs, Dr. Deal says.
Exercises that make your muscles work against gravity, such as walking, weight-lifting or aerobics, are best for strengthening bones, Dr. Deal says. Aim to do some sort of physical activity every day to the extent of your abilities.
Is it time for a test?
A bone density test can help to evaluate your risk of fracture. Experts recommend the test for women who are older than age 65 – and earlier for those at high risk.
“We recommend women have a bone density test around the time of menopause, especially if they have a history or they are of small body weight, if they are fair-skinned or if they had a previous fracture,” Dr. Deal says.
If you do have osteoporosis, two categories of medicines might help. One helps to prevent bone breakdown, while the other helps to build bone. Dr. Deal says new drugs that are being tested in both categories should be available in the next couple of years.