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Paget's Disease of Bone - Topic Overview

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What is Paget's disease?

Paget's disease is a problem of abnormal bone growth. It may affect just one bone, but it usually affects more than one.

  • In normal bone, the bone tissue is constantly being broken down, absorbed into the body, and then rebuilt with new cells.
  • In Paget's disease, bone tissue is broken down and absorbed much faster than normal, so the body speeds up the bone rebuilding process. But this new bone is often weak and brittle, and it breaks easily.

Paget's disease is most common in people older than 50, and the risk of getting it increases with age. Most people who have it are able to lead normal lives.

What causes Paget's disease?

The cause of Paget's disease is not clear. But it may be related to:

  • Genetics. You're more likely to get Paget's disease if your parents, brothers, or sisters have it.
  • Viruses. The viruses linked to measles in people and distemper in dogs have been found in the bones of people with Paget's disease. But there's no proof that these viruses cause this disease.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with Paget's disease have no symptoms. When symptoms occur, the most common ones are:

  • Bone pain. It may be worse at night and get better with exercise. People often mistake the pain for normal aging or arthritis.
  • Deformed bones, such as bowed legs, an enlarged skull or hips, or a curved backbone.
  • Broken bones, or fractures.

Other symptoms may occur, depending on which part of the body is affected by Paget's disease.

  • If it affects the skull, you may have symptoms such as headaches, sagging face muscles (facial droop), hearing problems, or loose teeth.
  • If it affects the spine, it may damage nerves and cause leg pain, numbness, or weakness. It can also cause an emergency condition called cauda equina syndrome that results in loss of feeling in the pelvic area and legs.

How is Paget's disease diagnosed?

Paget's disease is most often found by chance when a person sees a doctor for a problem such as hip or back pain. An abnormal X-ray or blood test may lead the doctor to discover this disease.

To diagnose Paget's disease, the doctor will ask about your past health, do a physical exam, and order tests such as:

  • Bone X-rays. Affected bones often look deformed and too thick on X-rays.
  • Bone scan. This is the best test for diagnosing Paget's disease. You may have a bone scan of your whole body to find out which bones are affected.
  • Blood and urine tests. The most important one for diagnosing Paget's disease is a blood test for alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme made by bone. If the level of this enzyme is high, your doctor will want to do other tests.

You might also need other tests, such as an MRI or a CT scan.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 25, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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