Paget's Disease Overview

Despite being the second most common bone disease behind osteoporosis, most people aren’t familiar with Paget’s disease since it’s often assumed to be arthritis, although it’s not unusual to have no symptoms at all when living with this condition. When symptoms do occur, patients typically report feeling bone-related pain. The disease eventually results in weak bones and may contribute to arthritis, fractures, and deformities due to an excessive formation and breakdown of bone tissue. Santa Monica back surgery professionals discuss everything you need to know about Paget’s disease.

What Causes It?

Researchers are still unsure about what causes Paget’s disease. There has been speculation that it may be related to a viral infection in bone cells or linked to genetic and environmental factors. Several genes appear to have some connection with the disease. Risk factors associated with Paget’s disease include:

  • Being over 55 years of age
  • Being male (it occurs more in men)
  • Having a family history of the condition

How Does the Disease Develop?

Paget’s disease affects cells that form new bone. These cells sometimes work overtime and produce too much new bone, which contributes to deformities and weakens bones. Extra blood vessels in deformed bones can increase the risk of bleeding during surgery. Possible complications linked to the condition include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fractures and deformities
  • Bone cancer
  • Heart disease (from the heart working harder to pump blood to areas affected by Paget’s)

What Are the Symptoms?

If symptoms do occur, discomfort will likely be felt in or around the spine. Paget’s disease typically affects the spinal column and the pelvis. Symptoms and signs related to the condition may include:

  • Bone pain that sometimes gets worse at night (often mistaken for arthritis)
  • Back and neck pain
  • Numbness and tingling sensations if nerves near the spine are compressed
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bowed legs, a curved backbone, and other bone deformities

How Is Paget’s Disease Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of the condition often involves X-rays to identify bone abnormalities, bone scans, and CT scans as well as MRIs to determine if there’s related soft tissue damage. People with Paget’s often have elevated levels of alkaline phosphatase, which can be detected with a blood test. A lab test can determine the rate at which bone cells break down and rebuild. This test is also helpful to gauge whether treatments are effective.

What Are the Treatment Options?

There is currently no cure for Paget’s disease. However, the condition is manageable. Many patients do not require any treatment for the disease. Regular doctor’s visits are still necessary to observe the progression of the condition and check for related issues such as fractures and nerve problems. If treatment is necessary, it may involve:

  • Osteoporosis drugs (bisphosphonates)
  • Calcitonin to help with calcium regulation
  • Surgery to correct related spinal fractures and deformities
  • Surgery to realign deformed bones or reduce pressure on nerves
  • Back fusion alternatives
  • Alternative treatments such as acupuncture and biofeedback
  • Physical therapy

If you are diagnosed with Paget’s disease, consider keeping a “pain journal” so your doctor can get an idea of when your symptoms typically occur. Take steps to prevent falls by removing hazards such as loose rugs from your home and using grab bars in the bathroom. You may also benefit from weight-bearing exercises to strengthen your bones, but check with your doctor first.

You can also schedule an appointment with a board-certified spine surgeon. Dr. Hyun Bae at The Spine Institute can diagnose the source of your pain and determine the most effective treatment, whether it’s a spinal fusion procedure or decompression surgery. Santa Monica residents can give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to learn more.