Avascular necrosis is the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply. Also called osteonecrosis, avascular necrosis can lead to tiny breaks in the bone and the bone's eventual collapse.
The blood flow to a section of bone can be interrupted if the bone is fractured or the joint becomes dislocated. Avascular necrosis of bone is also associated with long-term use of high-dose steroid medications and excessive alcohol intake.
The hip is the joint most commonly affected by avascular necrosis. While avascular necrosis of bone can happen to anyone, it usually occurs in men between the ages of 30 and 60.
Many people have no symptoms in the early stages of avascular necrosis of bone. As the disease worsens, your affected joint may hurt only when you put weight on it. Eventually, the joint may hurt even when you're lying down.
Pain can be mild or severe and usually develops gradually. Joints most likely to be affected are the hip, shoulder, knee, hand and foot. Pain associated with avascular necrosis of the hip may be focused in the groin, thigh or buttock. Some people experience avascular necrosis bilaterally — for example, in both hips or in both knees.
When to see a doctor
Avascular necrosis occurs when blood flow to a bone is interrupted or reduced, which may be caused by:
Your risk of developing avascular necrosis can be increased by certain diseases, medical treatments or excessive drinking.
Avascular necrosis that goes untreated will worsen with time. Eventually the bone may become weakened enough that it collapses. When the bone loses its smooth shape, severe arthritis can result.
Preparing for your appointment
Although you may initially bring your signs and symptoms to the attention of your family doctor, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the joints (rheumatologist) or to an orthopedic surgeon.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
During the exam, your doctor will press around your joint, checking for tenderness. He or she may also move your joints through a variety of positions to see if your range of motion has been reduced.
Treatments and drugs
The treatment goal for avascular necrosis is to prevent further bone loss. What treatment you receive depends on the amount of bone damage you already have.
Surgical and other procedures
It's hard to tell if reducing your risk factors will help prevent avascular necrosis, but the following tips can also help improve your general health:
Last Updated: 2012-05-04
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