What Is It?
Bones in your body continuously break down and form again in a natural and tightly balanced process called bone remodeling. This bone remodeling also occurs in response to stress or injury placed on the bone. For example, weight-bearing exercise leads to increased bone formation.
In Paget’s disease, more bone breaks down than usual and more new bone forms than usual. These changes in the bone can lead to bone enlargement and deformity. The new bone growth tends to be softer and more fragile than normal bone, and can develop in a haphazard pattern. Because of this, the bone can fracture. The long bones, especially the legs, tend to bow, and the skull may enlarge, particularly over the forehead.
Paget’s disease is the second most common bone disorder in people over 50, after osteoporosis. It is rarely diagnosed in young adults.
Although the cause is unknown, genetics may play a role because the disease seems to run in families. Research suggests a slow-growing virus may trigger the disease; some cells in the bone of people with Paget’s disease look like they are infected with a virus. However, no virus has been identified.
The condition is rare in certain parts of the world, such as Japan, but more common in the United States and Australia. In the United States, an estimated 10 percent of people older than 80 have Paget’s disease.
In about 20 percent of people with Paget’s disease, only one area of the body — the spine, pelvis, thighs, lower legs or skull — is affected. The rest have many areas involved. In serious cases, complications can include deafness, congestive heart failure (caused by the extra blood flow required by the diseased bone), an elevated calcium level and cancer of the bone.
An estimated 70 percent of people with Paget’s disease do not have any symptoms. Symptoms are more likely to occur in people who have many areas of the body affected. Symptoms can include:
- Bone pain and warmth
- Head enlargement
- Bowing of the legs
- Hearing loss
- Weakness or constipation (due to elevated blood calcium levels, a complication of increased bone remodeling)
Because many people with Paget’s disease do not have symptoms, the condition often is not discovered until an X-ray or blood test taken for another reason suggests the disease may be present. If your doctor thinks you may have Paget’s disease, specific blood and urine tests can measure the levels of certain byproducts of bone formation and breakdown. More detailed X-rays or a bone scan also may be done. In rare instances, a doctor may recommend a bone biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and exclude other possibilities. In a bone biopsy, a small piece of bone is removed with a needle so it can be examined in a laboratory.
Paget’s disease cannot be cured, but treatment can control the symptoms.
There is no way to prevent Paget’s disease.
Most people without symptoms do not need treatment. In rare cases, a doctor may recommend treatment even if you don’t have symptoms if X-rays, blood tests and a bone biopsy detect enough disease.
Medications, including aspirin, mild pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, can help treat pain and inflammation. In advanced cases, your doctor may recommend medications such as alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel), pamidronate or calcitonin (Miacalcin) to reduce the activity of cells that remodel bone.
Surgery to correct deformities is rarely necessary. If Paget’s disease causes significant damage to a hip, hip replacement surgery may be considered.
A person with Paget’s disease will be monitored carefully for complications such as heart failure or an elevation in blood calcium, and these conditions will be treated if necessary.
When To Call A Professional
Contact your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of Paget’s disease for more than two weeks.
Paget’s disease is not fatal, but it is a long-lasting (chronic) condition. The outlook is generally good, especially if the condition is diagnosed and treated before major changes in bones have occurred.
Diseases and Conditions Center
All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.