We all know what happens when your lungs lose their air supply, but what happens when your bones lose their blood supply? In a blood-compromised environment, your bones will die and eventually collapse. This is a condition known as osteonecrosis that can lead to pain and arthritis.
Osteonecrosis is commonly found in the upper leg, upper arm, knees, shoulders, and the ankles. Symptoms generally begin in their 30s – 50s, afflicting both men and women.
Also known as avascular necrosis, aseptic necrosis, and ischemic necrosis, osteonecrosis is the deterioration of bones and a decreased ability to rebuild bones. With healthy bones, your body continually replaces the old bone with new bone.
In the initial stages of the disease, you might not notice any symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, you may notice joint pain that worsens over time. Although the cause is unknown, the risk factors include the long-term use of steroids, injuries to the joints, excessive alcohol consumption, and the presence of other diseases, including cancer, lupus, and arthritis. Osteonecrosis can also affect individuals for no apparent reason at all.
To diagnose, your doctor will perform a complete physical assessment, take note of your medical history, and possibly order a certain diagnostic exam, such as an x-ray, MRI, CT scan, bone scan, or a bone biopsy. He may also want to measure the pressure inside of the bone.
When detected in its early stages, treatment is much more effective. To determine the best course of treatment action, your doctor will take into account your age, the stage of the disease, in which part of your body it is found, and the underlying cause, if known.
The main goals in treating osteonecrosis are to improve joint capability and to prevent any further damage to the affected area. It is imperative to continually protect the bones and joints. In the initial stages of the disease, a non-surgical approach will most likely be recommended.
Treatment options include the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines to alleviate the pain and swelling. For those with any blood clotting issues, blood thinners may be administered to keep clots from blocking the supply of blood to the bone. If you are taking any steroid medication, a cholesterol-reducing medication might be used to reduce the fat within the blood supply.
It is important to keep weight off of the affected joint. You can do this by limiting your activity or using crutches. This should allow for some healing and possibly slow the acceleration of bone damage. When used in conjunction with the anti-inflammatory drugs, crutch use could help you to avoid any invasive procedures. Certain exercises of the joints may help you to increase your range of motion. Research has also determined that the use of electrical stimulation can promote bone growth.
Over time, most people who are diagnosed with osteonecrosis will require surgical intervention. This could consist of one of four types of surgery; core decompression, osteotomy, bone graft, or total joint replacement.
Core decompression surgery lowers the pressure inside the bone and allows for the increased flow of blood within the bone. An osteotomy reshapes the bone to reduce the stress on the affected joint. A bone graft uses a healthy bone from one part of your body to replace the damaged bone. Finally, there is the option of total joint replacement, which replaces the damaged joint with a prosthetic.
If you are experiencing any symptoms that lead you to believe you may have this disease, please consult your physician as soon as possible. Early treatment is always the best option!
(Information for this article was found at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/print/osteonecrosis.html and http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteonecrosis/osteonecrosis_ff.asp)