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Osteonecrosis Information and Treatment Options

  • Published: 2010-06-22 : JD.
  • Synopsis: Osteonecrosis is a form of arthritis in which the bone loses its access to the body's blood supply and can occur in joints such as the hips

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Osteonecrosis is a form of arthritis in which the bone loses its access to the body's blood supply, osteonecrosis literally means "death of the bone" and often occurs in the hip joints.

Without blood, the bone breaks downs and gradually disintegrates. This breakdown process is known as a vascular necrosis.

The process can be quite debilitating. It begins when the afflicted bones become soft and porous. Eventually, as they receive a dwindling supply of blood, they become brittle and easy to break. The condition most often affects the joints of the hips, knees, and ankles, though roughly 90 per cent of osteonecrosis sufferers experience the disease in their hips. Scientists believe genetics makes some people prone to developing osteoarthritis in the hip and knees. The symptoms of hip osteoarthritis usually begin as pain while placing weight on your affected hip.

The average age of onset for osteonecrosis is 38 years, much lower than most forms of arthritis. But it can also afflict the young. In fact, Legg-Calve-Perth's disease, a form of osteonecrosis, can develop in both young children and teenagers. It tends to affect the hip or femur more than other joints, and if it's not treated aggressively in its early stages, the femur head will usually attempt to heal on its own, often healing in a collapsed position that causes pain and stiffness.

What's the cause of osteonecrosis

Most instances of osteonecrosis occur after the joint has suffered a trauma or injury. A fracture or dislocation of the joint can actually block the supply of blood to the bone, which in turn causes the onset of osteonecrosis. Studies have determined that approximately 20 per cent of those who suffer from a hip injury will develop osteonecrosis, though keep in mind that these are generally significant traumas. A bump or a bruise is not likely to lead to an onset of osteonecrosis.

The most significant early sign of osteonecrosis is pain.

Patients commonly note an aching feeling and generalized pain in the area of the affected joint. It may start out as a mild pain, primarily related to physical activity that places pressure on the bones, such as walking or lifting. It's often difficult for sufferers to pinpoint the precise location of the pain. In other words, they have trouble describing exactly where the pain originates. For example, individuals often report feeling pain in their groin area when the true inflammation is located in the hips.

Limited motion, joint stiffness, and muscle spasms are also signs of osteonecrosis, though these are less apparent in the early stages of the disease. As the osteonecrosis progresses they become more noticeable. However, they can come and go, making them more difficult to pin down for both the sufferer and the physician.

Treatment varies according to each patient's circumstances. To fight the inflammation, some doctors prescribe corticosteroids. However, most steroid-based drug medications cannot be taken for an extended period of time since they may cause dangerous side effects. Your doctor will be able to decide if this is an appropriate treatment option for your specific case.

Drug therapy is generally used in conjunction with other treatment options. These options may include dietary changes, special exercise routines, and in severe cases, surgical intervention. The use of special assistive devices such as walkers and crutches can also be used to deal with the effects of this often confounding condition.

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