It is no wonder that most consumers and many doctors consider osteoporosis a "women's health" issue: More than 8 million women in this country...

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It is no wonder that most consumers and many doctors consider osteoporosis a “women’s health” issue: More than 8 million women in this country suffer from it, it is often termed “post menopausal” osteoporosis, the only visible symptom is known as a “dowager’s hump” and for years the only medical treatment was female hormone replacement therapy.

But more than 2 million men have osteoporosis, too. And an additional 12 million have lower-than-normal bone density or “osteopenia,” putting them at increased risk for osteoporosis.

“Osteoporosis is a significant problem in men and much less appreciated than it is in women,” says Dr. Glenn Cunningham, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Prevalence and fracture rates are not as great. However, when men have a hip fracture, it is really devastating. One-third are dead within a year.”

Here are four essential things everyone should know about this condition in which bones become abnormally porous and fragile so that they break easily.

Risk factors include some you have no control over and some you do, such as:

Gender: Women in general have lighter, thinner bones than men, so osteoporosis is more common. At age 35, the average woman has 30 percent less bone mass than a man of the same age.

Skeleton size: Men and women with small bones are at higher risk.

Aging: After increasing bone mass until about the age of 35, men and women begin to lose bone mass.

When a woman reaches menopause at about age 50, the loss is much more dramatic because she produces much less estrogen, a female hormone that helps maintain bone mass.

Heredity: A parent or grandparent with osteoporosis puts you more at risk.

Smoking

Excessive alcohol

Low calcium intake throughout life

Inadequate exercise

Medications: Long-term use of steroids to treat asthma and arthritis, anticonvulsants, some cancer treatments and aluminum-containing antacids all contribute to bone loss.