Other Disorders of the Skeletal System - Other bone disorders


This metabolic disorder is marked by porousness and fragility of the bones. When the condition is associated with old age, it is called senile osteoporosis . While the exact cause of the disorder is unknown, most physicians believe that calcium deficiencies—or inadequate calcium intake—may be a primary cause. Other contributing causes may be protein deficiency and a lack of the sex hormones androgen and estrogen. Postmenopausal women experience a dramatic decrease in the production of estrogen, which maintains bone strength. Because of its link with estrogen, osteoporosis is quite common among postmenopausal women.


Researchers stress the need for both good diet and exercise as means of arresting or preventing osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D supplements may help. A calcium-rich diet includes foods such as low-fat cheeses and milk; yogurt; red kidney, lima, and soybeans; fish; and green, leafy vegetables. Several types of drugs to treat osteoporosis are also available; they include estrogen, bisphosphonates, calcitonins, and estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), such as raloxifene.

New methods of diagnosis have made earlier detection possible. Non-invasive methods include absorptiometry , a measure of bone loss in the wrist and foot; dualphoton absorptiometry , a measure of bone loss in the spine and hip; and the use of a CT scan to measure loss of spinal bone. Blood tests, today the subject of research, may provide a means of very early detection. Once bone loss has been found to be too rapid, physicians can suggest ways to slow the rate of loss before fractures occur.

Osteogenesis Imperfects

During the formation and development of bones, a process called osteogenesis , the bones may grow long and thin but not to the required width, becoming brittle so that they fracture easily. This condition is known as osteogenesis imperfecta . The individual may grow out of the condition in the middle twenties after suffering numerous fractures while growing up. A child thus afflicted cannot participate in games or other strenuous activities.

Paget's Disease

Paget's disease is characterized by a softening of the bones followed by an abnormal thickening of the bones. Its cause is unknown, and it manifests itself after the age of 30. It may cause pain in the thighs, knees, or legs, as well as backache, headache, and general fatigue. Symptoms include deafness, deformity of the pelvis, spine, and skull, and bowed legs. Although there is no known cure, Paget's disease is not usually fatal, but is eventually disabling.


Osteomyelitis is an inflammation of the bone caused by fever-inducing bacteria or mold organisms. The invading microorganisms usually reach the bone through the bloodstream after entering the body through a wound or ulcer; the infection also can begin through a compound fracture or during surgery. The staphylococcus germ is most frequently the causative agent, and the most frequent site is the shaft of a long bone of a child. In adults, osteomyelitis usually occurs in the pelvis or spinal column.


Symptoms are fever, chills, and pain, with nausea and vomiting, especially in younger patients. There also may be muscle spasms around the affected bone. The infected bone usually is sensitive to the touch but X rays may reveal no abnormality during the early stages. Redness and swelling sometimes appear in tissues above the inflamed bone, and as the disease progresses the patient may find that simply moving the affected limb is painful. The infection can involve a joint, producing misleading symptoms of arthritis.


Examination by a physician usually reveals signs of a recent wound, ulceration, or similar lesion that may have been accompanied by pus from the invading bacteria. Laboratory tests of the blood usually will show an abnormal number of white cells and the presence of the infectious microorganism. Signs of anemia also may be found.


Treatment may include the use of antibiotics for a period of several weeks. In difficult cases, surgery may be required to drain abscesses or to remove dead bone tissue. Before the advent of antibiotic drugs, osteomyelitis could be a fatal disease; early and proper treatment with modern medications has virtually eliminated that risk.

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