Of the resources necessary to sustain human life, oxygen is by far the most critical. Within minutes of the oxygen in our tissues being depleted, any oxygen-starved cells will begin to die. Because oxygen is delivered to our cells by the blood in our circulatory systems, the cause of oxygen starvation in our body tissues is usually a blockage of blood flow. The most readily recognized health problems caused by this severe lack of oxygen in our tissues are heart attacks and strokes.
While these well-known health issues certainly demonstrate the destructive result of oxygen starvation, lack of oxygen to other tissues can also have serious consequences. On such example is the relatively rare but debilitating condition of Osteonecrosis.
What Is Osteonecrosis?
We do not typically think of the bones as tissues with blood flowing in them, but our bones do contain many living cells that are served by the circulatory system. Some of these cells function in maintaining the structure of our bones. When the cells within our bones are starved of oxygen, they too will die. The death of these maintenance cells means that the bone structure will degrade over time.
Osteonecrosis or avascular necrosis, as it is also known, occurs most frequently in the knees, hips and the shoulders. However it is also seen in the jaw and in the vertebrae of the back. When it occurs in the back, it is known as Kummel’s Disease. The condition most often occurs in those aged 30 to 50 and between 10 to 20 thousand new cases are reported in the US each year. Occurrence of the disease in the hip is one of the more common situations.
For people who experience a low oxygen event or infarction of the bone tissues, what accompanies the bone degradation is often pain and significant arthritis. In many cases, when the disease occurs in the hip, the only option is hip replacement surgery. Likewise, a serious occurrence in the back or jaw will also require surgery to remove and potentially replace the dead bone. Because of the poor blood flow in the first place, surgery to treat Osteonecrosis can often have poor results.