Osteoporosis is a health condition that impacts over three million people in the UK, including both men and women.
Characterised by a decrease in bone density, the condition effectively weakens the bones and makes them more susceptible to fractures.
In this blog post, we will explore the significance of osteoporosis, shed light on its prevalence in men and women and highlight how it impacts both genders in different ways.
Prevalence and incidence of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis affects millions of people across the UK. Understanding its prevalence in men and women could help boost further awareness, treatment and prevention.
Osteoporosis in women
Women generally have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, often as a result of menopause causing oestrogen levels to drop rapidly.
Studies show that 20% of women in the UK are at least three times more likely to break a bone before being diagnosed with osteoporosis, highlighting just why it’s so important to understand the condition and administer earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Hip fractures are a common incidence of osteoporosis in both men and women, with women making up the vast majority of the 79,000 hip fractures that occur in the UK each year.
According to research, however, this figure dramatically decreases by 28% when effective screening and targeted treatment are in place, again highlighting the importance of earlier intervention.
Osteoporosis in men
While the prevalence of osteoporosis in men is lower than in women, that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.
One in five men in the UK over the age of 50 are estimated to have an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime. These typically occur later in life than they do in women, potentially due to menopause typically taking place between the ages of 45–55 and there being an increased likelihood of brittle bones at a younger age.
Recognising the prevalence of osteoporosis in men and women not only highlights the importance of early detection but also dispels the common misconception that it only impacts women.
Bone density scans, for example, can help diagnose osteoporosis in men earlier, reducing the risk of breaks and allowing the right treatment plan to be devised.
Gender-specific risk factors for osteoporosis
As highlighted below, there are a variety of gender-specific risk factors that can increase the risk of osteoporosis developing.
Risk factors in women
As we’ve touched upon already, menopause is one of the biggest causes of osteoporosis in women. However, several other factors can also increase the risk, such as:
Decreased oestrogen levels after menopause are a significant risk factor that can contribute to osteoporosis in women. This is because oestrogen helps maintain bone density, meaning that lower levels can lead to accelerated bone loss.
As women age, their risk of osteoporosis increases. This is because our bone mass reaches its peak in early adulthood and then slowly declines from that point onwards. Menopause also speeds up this process, again increasing the risk of osteoporosis developing.
Having a known family history of osteoporosis can increase the risk of developing the condition, due to the impact on bone density and overall bone health.
Women with smaller frames and lower body weight may have a higher risk of osteoporosis due to having less bone mass to begin with. This puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to maintaining bone strength and density over time.
Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle choices can all increase the risk of osteoporosis in women. Similarly, maintaining a diet that is deficient in vitamins like calcium and vitamin D can also increase the risk.
Risk factors in men
As with women, certain risk factors elevate the likelihood of men getting osteoporosis in their lifetime. These typically include:
Like women, as men age, their bone density decreases. While this might happen later in life compared to women, having a reduced bone density can still cause osteoporosis over the long term.
The male sex hormone testosterone has many roles in the body, including helping to maintain healthy bones. When there is a deficiency of testosterone, this can increase the risk of osteoporosis due to a higher likelihood of accelerated bone loss.
Medical conditions and medications
Certain medications and medical conditions can increase the risk of osteoporosis in men. These can include chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and prolonged use of corticosteroids (steroids). However, these risk factors can also impact women.
The same lifestyle factors that affect women can also impact men. Leading a healthy lifestyle that consists of a well-balanced diet, limited alcohol intake, no smoking and plenty of exercise can significantly reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Some men have also been known to have a genetic predisposition to developing osteoporosis.
Understanding gender-specific factors can help when offering targeted osteoporosis treatment and management strategies in men and women. If you’d like to discuss any of these risk factors with us in more detail, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
The impact of osteoporosis on bone health
Osteoporosis can have a significant effect on bone health in both men and women. Women tend to experience the impact of this earlier than men, due to menopause creating an increased risk of fractures and breaks.
The most common type of fractures women experience due to osteoporosis include vertebral fractures (broken spinal bones), hip fractures and wrist fractures. These can result from even a minor fall, causing pain, loss of mobility and a decreased quality of life.
Men also experience bone loss and fractures due to osteoporosis, but the incidence is much lower than it is in women. Fractures can lead to greatly reduced mobility, long-lasting pain and a higher risk of further complications.
Osteoporosis impacts other areas of the body in both men and women, with fractures reported in places like the ribs, pelvis and upper arm too.
Prevention of osteoporosis
Maintaining healthy bones is important when reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures and, both men and women can make healthy lifestyle choices to enhance their bone health and density.
Getting enough calcium in your diet through dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt, as well as leafy green vegetables and fortified plant-based alternatives is essential.
Vitamin D also plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium so it’s important to get enough sunlight and incorporate other types of foods, like salmon, mackerel, egg yolks and fortified plant-based alternatives, into your diet as well.
Exercise is good for your bone health too, with weight-bearing and strength-training exercises particularly effective methods of growing muscle and stimulating bone growth. Other useful exercises to incorporate into your day-to-day life could include jogging, walking, stair climbing and weightlifting.
Additionally, maintaining a healthy body weight is incredibly important for maintaining your bone health. Therefore, lifestyle choices like quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake could also reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Treatment options for osteoporosis
Treatment options for osteoporosis are often based on several factors, such as your age and your sex. Typically, medications will be provided as a first method of treatment.
Bisphosphonates are a type of medication that is designed to slow down the rate at which bone is broken down in your body. There are different types of these, including:
- Alendronic acid
- Ibandronic acid
- Zoledronic acid
Bisphosphonates can be given as a tablet, liquid or injection and can take up to 12 months to work. They can also be prescribed to both men and women.
Parathyroid hormone is another type of medication that can be prescribed to both men and women. This injectable medication works by stimulating new bone growth and is only given to people with extremely low bone density and in place of other treatment options.
Calcium and vitamin D supplements can also be prescribed to help support and strengthen your bones.
Treatment for women only
Selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) are another type of medication used to manage osteoporosis in women, helping maintain bone density and reduce the risk of fractures.
Currently, raloxifene is the only type of SERM available and is only prescribed to women once they have gone through menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can also be offered to women who have gone through menopause.
HRT contains either oestrogen on its own or is combined with progesterone to help strengthen the bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Women who still have their uterus will typically need to take combined HRT (including progesterone) to lower their risk of uterine cancer.
While osteoporosis can’t be cured, these treatments help alleviate your symptoms and promote stronger bones that are less prone to fractures.
Get in touch with Echelon Health
Osteoporosis can be a challenging condition to live with. But, there are treatments available to help manage the condition and slow down bone density loss.
Prevention is key with osteoporosis, so leading a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a healthy diet is important. However, certain other risk factors can also increase your risk of developing the condition, so it’s important to get your health checked if you’re concerned.
Here at Echelon Health, we offer bone density (DEXA) scans as a part of our health assessments. These are used to measure your bone density and track bone loss, allowing us to diagnose whether you have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing it.
To find out more about osteoporosis or assess your likelihood of developing the condition, get in touch with our team to book your private health check.
- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis/treatment/ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis/prevention/