Major Pathologies of Bone

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  • 0:01 What's Wrong with My Bones?
  • 0:35 Inflammation and Infections
  • 3:34 Bone Tumors
  • 5:32 Genetic Bone Diseases
  • 6:50 Nutritional Deficiencies
  • 8:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Bones can be affected by many diseases and disorders, which are caused by infections, cancer, genetic mutations, and nutritional deficiencies. In this lesson, you will learn about all the different types of bone diseases.

What's Wrong with My Bones?

Your bones are amazingly strong and tough, and they also have the incredible ability to grow and change throughout your life and to heal themselves following very serious injuries. However, as strong as they are, even bones can be affected by diseases. Inflammation and infection, cancer, nutritional deficiencies, and genetic diseases can all damage bone tissue and cause your bones to become weaker. Many of these bone diseases can also be really painful. Let's look at each of these types of diseases in detail.

Inflammation and Infections

A general term for any type of inflammation in a bone is osteitis. You will see that many bone diseases contain the root word 'osteo' or 'ost.' This comes from the Greek word 'osteon,' which means 'bone.' In medicine, any time a word contains 'osteo' or 'ost,' it means that it has something to do with bone. Osteitis causes the bone tissue to become painful, and there may also be swelling and tenderness around the bone. It can be caused by many things, including infection, cancer, and injury.

In addition to the bone tissue itself becoming inflamed, the thin membrane that covers bone, known as the periosteum, can be inflamed. This is a condition known as periostitis. Notice the root word 'ost' in 'periostitis' as well. Periostitis also causes pain and swelling in the tissue surrounding the bone and can also be caused by injury or infection. Periostitis of the front of the tibia bones in the front of the lower leg is very common in runners, where it is commonly known as shin splints. This condition results from repetitive trauma to the bones of the lower leg without allowing adequate time for the tissue to repair itself and is common not only in runners but also in dancers and people in the military.

A more serious condition is osteomyelitis, which is a bacterial infection in bone tissue. Bones can become infected with bacteria after trauma where the bone is exposed and during surgical procedures, such as joint replacements or root canals in teeth. Bones can also be infected by bacteria that come from the bloodstream. Osteomyelitis is usually diagnosed by X-ray, where infected areas show up as bright spots. Osteomyelitis is difficult to treat because systemic antibiotics have difficulty reaching the infection site. It often requires surgery to clean the bone and may even result in loss of a limb if the infection cannot be controlled with drugs.

Sometimes, bone tissue can begin to die even if there is no infection. This is called osteonecrosis, and it is caused when there is not enough blood flow to a bone so the tissue breaks down and dies. This commonly occurs in the shoulder, hip, and knee joints. As the bone tissue at the ends of the bones begins to break down, it usually results in arthritis and pain in the joint. The treatment for osteonecrosis of the bones in a joint is usually joint replacement surgery. Both hip and knee joints can be replaced very successfully, and these surgeries are among the most commonly performed now.

Bone Tumors

In addition to inflammatory and infectious diseases, bone tissue is affected by several different types of cancer. Malignant tumors that begin in bone tissue are called primary bone cancer, while cancers that start in other parts of the body and then spread to the bones are called secondary bone cancer. Although many types of cancer can spread to the bones, there are a few types of primary bone cancers that start in bone tissue. Osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancerous tumor that forms in a bone. It is by far the most common type of bone cancer and is usually found in the femur, pelvic bones, humerus, and jaw.

The symptoms of osteosarcoma are pain in the bone that is worse at night or after strenuous activity. Sometimes, osteosarcoma is diagnosed after a bone fracture because the tumor makes the bone weaker and easier to break. Another relatively common cancer of bone tissue is myeloma. Myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow that causes the production of abnormal plasma cells, which prevent normal blood cells from being made. It causes bone pain and anemia and is incurable at the present time, although it is treatable.

Not all tumors in bones are cancerous, however. Some, such as osteochondromas, are benign. An osteochondroma is the most common type of benign bone tumor, affecting about 3% of the population. Osteochondromas begin in cartilage at the ends of bones and can cause joint pain and stiffness as they grow larger. Many people have osteochondromas and do not even know it because they don't always cause symptoms. If symptoms become severe, though, the tumor can be surgically removed, and this usually completely cures the patient.

Genetic Bone Diseases

Many other bone diseases are genetic disorders that are inherited. Craniosynostosis occurs when the sutures joining the bones in an infant's skull fuse too soon and do not allow the skull to grow normally. This results in an unusual head or face shape and can cause problems with brain development depending on which sutures become fused. Several genetic mutations have been identified that lead to craniosynostosis, and this is a relatively common disorder, affecting 1 in every 2,000 babies born each year.

Paget's disease is another genetic bone disorder that causes excessive breakdown and remodeling of bone, leading to the formation of enlarged and misshapen bones. It causes bones to become weaker and more easily fractured and can cause visible skeletal deformities.

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