According to estimates provided in Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General, approximately 1 million people in the United states suffer from Paget’s disease of bone – or about 1.3 people per 100 men and women in the 45-74 age group. While relatively rare, Paget’s is the second most common bone disease next to osteoporosis.
The more we know about a disease, the better prepared we can be in the event it affects us or our loved ones. Let’s take a look at how this disease affects the body, who is at risk, and what treatments are available.
What is Paget’s Disease?
Paget’s disease disrupts the normal bone recycling process in the body, causing affected bones to become fragile, enlarged or misshapen over time. Scientists have not yet identified a cause of Paget’s disease, but there appear to be a number of genes associated with the disorder.
This disease can occur anywhere in the human body, though it is most common in bones located in the spine, skull, pelvis and legs. Some people suffering from Paget’s will experience just one affected bone while others can have several affected bones, but the disease does not spread from bone to bone and it does not affect the entire skeleton.
What are the Symptoms?
In many cases, people with Paget’s disease will not have any symptoms and thus will never know that they have it. In more advanced cases, the following symptoms may be present depending on what area of the body is affected:
- Misshapen bones
- Tingling, numbness or weakness
- Bone pain
- Osteoarthritis in the joints next to affected bones
- Hearing loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor immediately.
Who is at Risk?
There are a few factors that increase the risk of developing Paget’s disease of bone:
- The risk increases with age. Adults over 40 are the most likely to suffer from Paget’s.
- Men are more at risk than women.
- Paget’s is most common among those with ethnic roots in central Europe, Greece, Scotland and England. The disease is very uncommon in Asia and Scandinavia.
- If a close relative has Paget’s, you have a much higher risk of developing the condition.
What Complications are Associated with Paget’s?
Paget’s disease typically progresses slowly and can be effectively managed in most people. If untreated, it can lead to health complications, including:
- bone fractures
- heart failure
- bone cancer
Is there a Cure?
While there is no cure for Paget’s disease, there are treatments which effectively prevent the disease from progressing and minimize pain – especially if it is diagnosed early. There are several FDA-approved medications that are used to treat Paget’s, and they fall into two major groups:
Bisphosphonates: These osteoporosis drugs are the most common treatment for Paget’s. Bisphosphonates are taken either orally or by injection, and while generally well tolerated, they may cause irritation of the GI tract.
Calcitonin: This naturally occurring hormone – made by the thyroid gland – is involved in bone metabolism and calcium regulation. Calcitonin is self-administered; side effects can include facial flushing, nausea, and skin irritation.
In advanced cases of Paget’s disease, surgery may be recommended to help heal fractures, realign bones, reduce nerve pressure or replace damaged joints.
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