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 is also associated with long-term use of high-dose steroid medications and excessive alcohol intake.
The most common joint affected by avascular necrosis is the hip. Avascular necrosis worsens with time, so managing it is a lifelong process.
Avascular necrosis typically causes pain and reduced range of motion in the affected joint. The most common joints affected by avascular necrosis include:
Some people experience avascular necrosis bilaterally — for example, in both hips or in both knees. Signs and symptoms may appear suddenly if caused by an injury. In other cases, the pain and stiffness may build up slowly over several months. Some people with avascular necrosis experience no symptoms at all.
Other joints that are affected by avascular necrosis include:
When to see a doctor
Avascular necrosis occurs when blood flow to a bone is interrupted or reduced, which may be caused by:
The two most common risk factors of avascular necrosis are:
Osteoporosis drugs may harm jaw
Procedures can increase risk
Conditions linked to bone death
Avascular necrosis that goes untreated will continue causing deterioration of the bone. Eventually the bone may become weakened enough that it collapses, causing pain and disability. Letting your avascular necrosis go untreated could lead to severe pain and loss of movement within two to five years.
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 rheumatologist — a doctor who specializes in disorders of the joints — or to an orthopedic surgeon.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Many disorders can cause joint pain. Imaging tests can help pinpoint the proper diagnosis.
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. Early stages of avascular necrosis may benefit from more conservative treatment, while later stages may require surgery.
Surgical and other procedures
Last Updated: 2010-01-29
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