What is Avascular Necrosis?

Avascular Necrosis (AVN) is a disease where there is cellular death (necrosis) of bone components due to interruption of the blood supply. Without blood, the bone tissue dies and the bone collapses. When avascular necrosis involves the bones of the hip joint, it often leads to destruction of the joint articular surfaces resulting in deformity of the femoral head and separation of the overlying cartilage. In the late stages of AVN, progressive damage to the hip joint results in early osteoarthritis.

Avascular Necrosis

What causes AVN to develop?

Known risk factors include the use of corticosteroid medications, high alcohol consumption and hip joint trauma (dislocations and fractures). In most cases no cause is identified, termed ’Idiopathic AVN’.

What is the natural course of hip AVN?

This depends on a number of factors. In the early stages of AVN, good medium term results can be obtained with the use of the medication bisphosphonate which decrease the rate of bone loss. Once collapse of the femoral head has occurred, the outcome for the hip joint is less favourable.  Surgical intervention may offer some improvement. Hip joints with significant collapse and deformity of the femoral head due to AVN reliably develop early onset osteoarthritis.

What is the treatment for hip AVN?

In the early stages of AVN, bisphosphonate medications (which can improve bone density) may prevent or slow progression of the disease. Surgery involves drilling of the defective area of the femoral head to stimulate a new blood supply (core decompression). If the disease has progressed and the femoral head has collapsed, the outcome for the hip joint is less favourable. In this case, joint replacement is usually necessary.

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