Osteoporosis is a progressive, degenerative bone disease most commonly associated with aging. This abnormal thinning of bones can progress without pain or other symptoms until a break occurs. Osteoporosis is incurable, but it is preventable and treatable.
Although current media attention focuses on osteoporosis in women, the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) reports that more than 2 million men have osteoporosis and another 12 million men have osteopaenia (low bone density), a precursor to osteoporosis. Based on their statistical analysis, the NOF predicts that 25% of men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis and (2) that men over 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than they are to get prostate cancer. Despite the gravity of these statistics, male osteoporosis and osteopaenia too often remain undiagnosed and inadequately treated conditions.
Risk factors for osteoporosis in men include: age, family history of osteoporosis, low body weight, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, inadequate calcium or vitamin D intake, low estrogen levels, a sedentary lifestyle, previous fracture not related to trauma, and disease or medication affecting bone metabolism (e.g., corticosteroids, certain anticonvulsants, or excess doses of thyroid hormones). In addition, other medical problems such as chronic kidney, lung or gastrointestinal disease, prostate cancer and some autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis can contribute to the development of osteopaenia and osteoporosis.
The importance of screening for osteopaenia and osteoporosis must not be underestimated. Early detection is the most important step toward the prevention and treatment of these conditions. A non-invasive, painless bone density test will determine whether you have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing the condition. Because standard x-rays cannot detect osteoporosis in its early stages, the following procedures are commonly employed:
- Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) – x-ray beams of differing energy are used to detect bone and soft tissue density separately. This fast and highly accurate technique can be used to measure bone density in the spine, hip, forearm and the total body.
- Single energy x-ray absorptiometry – a single x-ray beam is used to measure bone density at peripheral sites like the forearm and heel. In this technique, the area to be tested is wrapped in a tissue-like substance or immersed in water to improve the quality of the results.
- Ultrasound – measurements taken during an ultrasound may provide data on the structural integrity of bone. New ultrasound devices such as quantitative ultrasound (QUS) can estimate bone density of the heel within minutes, providing an automatic print-out of results.
Each of these tests will allow your doctor to (1) detect osteoporosis at its earliest stages, so that treatment can begin, (2) monitor your rate of bone loss, and (3) monitor your response to treatment.
All men 50 and over should take the following essential steps to keep bones strong: (1) engage in regular weight-bearing exercise (brisk walking, weight-lifting, stair-climbing, etc.) and (2) follow a healthy diet, with an emphasis on calcium, low-fat or nonfat dairy products as well as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
If you or a loved one have one or more risk factors for osteoporosis, it’s important that you consult with your doctor without delay.
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