Osteoporosis, which causes progressive bone loss and increased risk of breaking bones, is commonly thought of as a woman’s disease — but it is, in fact, unisex. A new study indicates it’s time we raise awareness about how this disease harms and, in some cases, kills men, who are three times less likely than women to undergo bone mass density testing following a broken wrist and seven times less likely to begin treatment for osteoporosis.

These are the facts: More than two million men have osteoporosis and up to one-quarter of men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to this disease. With an aging population, the incidence of fragility fractures in the United States over the next 30 years is expected to increase two to fourfold in men. Breaking a bone may be painful and difficult to overcome, but that is the least of a senior man’s worries. Shockingly, one-third of all hip fractures occur in men, who are twice as likely as women to die after such injury, according to data published by the International Osteoporosis Foundation. Even after a simple wrist fracture, survival rates are lower among men.

The Screening Test Is Painless

"Treating men for bone fractures, but not the underlying cause, places them at a greater risk for future bone breaks and related complications," said Dr. Tamara Rozental, associate professor of orthopedic surgery, Harvard Medical School. For the current study, Rozental and her co-researchers reviewed the medical records of 95 men and 344 women over the age of 50 who were treated for a wrist fracture at a single institution between 2007 and 2012. The analyzed data included age, injury, fracture severity, co-illnesses and disease, and types of treatment. The researchers looked at whether or not patients were screened for osteoporosis before their injury or within six months following their fracture.

Fewer men than women underwent bone mass density testing prior to their fracture. This evaluation is standard care for women over the age of 65; though similar recommendations have been proposed for men, it is stressed far less for the stronger sex. Following a wrist fracture, the number of men assessed for osteoporosis continued to be lower: just 18 percent of men compared to 53 percent of women. The researchers also discovered just one-fifth of all injured men — versus more than half of all injured women — initiated treatment with calcium and vitamin D supplements, while fewer men started drug treatment to help them increase bone mass.

Screening for osteoporosis is most commonly done with Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) imaging. The test is painless and may help you predict your risk of fractures.

Source: Rozental T, et al. Distal Radial Fractures in Older Men. A Missed Opportunity? Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. 2014.