OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Paget’s disease usually occurs in adults over age 40. It is a disorder of the bone remodeling process that begins with overactive osteoclasts. This means more bone is resorbed than is laid down. The osteoblasts try to compensate but the new bone they lay down is weak and brittle and therefore prone to fracture.
While some people with Paget’s disease have no symptoms, others experience pain, bone fractures, and bone deformities. Bones of the pelvis, skull, spine, and legs are the most commonly affected. When occurring in the skull, Paget’s disease can cause headaches and hearing loss.
What causes the osteoclasts to become overactive? The answer is still unknown, but hereditary factors seem to play a role. Some scientists believe Paget’s disease is due to an as-yet-unidentified virus.
Paget’s disease is diagnosed via imaging studies and lab tests. X-rays may show bone deformities or areas of bone resorption. Bone scans are also useful. In these studies, a dye containing a radioactive ion is injected into the body. Areas of bone resorption have an affinity for the ion, so they will light up on the scan if the ions are absorbed. In addition, blood levels of an enzyme called alkaline phosphatase are typically elevated in people with Paget’s disease.
Bisphosphonates, drugs that decrease the activity of osteoclasts, are often used in the treatment of Paget’s disease. However, in a small percentage of cases, bisphosphonates themselves have been linked to an increased risk of fractures because the old bone that is left after bisphosphonates are administered becomes worn out and brittle. Still, most doctors feel that the benefits of bisphosphonates more than outweigh the risk; the medical professional has to weigh the benefits and risks on a case-by-case basis. Bisphosphonate treatment can reduce the overall risk of deformities or fractures, which in turn reduces the risk of surgical repair and its associated risks and complications.
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