Paget’s disease of the bone

When we think of bone deterioration, it’s usually osteoporosis that comes up first, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Paget’s disease of bone, though you may have never heard of it, is a fairly common condition in the UK, particularly in those over 50 years of age. Paget’s disease disrupts the normal cycle of bone renewal, causing bones to become weakened and possibly deformed.

In many cases there are no symptoms of this disease and the condition is only found during tests carried out for another reason, but for others, it is the cause of persistent pain and a range of other problems.

Symptoms can include:

  • Constant, dull bone pain
  • Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
  • A shooting pain that travels along or across the body, numbness and tingling, or loss of movement in part of the body
  • Deformities in any bones of the body.

Bone cells regenerate in a similar way to skin. Old bone is broken down and replaced by new bone. In Paget’s disease, bone is absorbed at a much faster rate than usual. The new bone is then produced too quickly resulting in larger and weaker bones.

Though it is unclear what triggers this, you’re at a higher risk of developing Paget’s disease if it runs in the family.

There’s currently no cure for Paget’s disease of bone but there are treatments that can relieve the symptoms and help keep it under control for many years.

The main treatments are:

  • Bisphosphonate medication – medicines that help control bone regeneration
  • Painkillers – usually over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • Supportive therapies – including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and devices such as walking sticks or shoe inserts
  • Surgery – this may be needed if further problems develop, such as fractures, deformities or severe joint damage.

Ensuring you get enough calcium and vitamin D can also help. Some people may need to take supplements.

If any of the symptoms sound familiar to you, visit your GP who can organise tests to check your bones and look for problems such as Paget’s disease of the bone.