Avascular Necrosis (AVN), also called osteonecrosis, bone infarction, aseptic necrosis, and ischemic bone necrosis, is cellular death (necrosis) of bone components due to interruption of the blood supply. Without blood, the bone tissue dies and the bone collapses. If avascular necrosis involves the bones of a joint, it often leads to destruction of the joint articular surfaces.
While it can affect any bone, about half of cases show multiple sites of damage, avascular necrosis primarily affects the joints at the shoulder, knee, and hip. The classical sites are: head of femur, neck of talus and waist of scaphoid.
Clinical avascular necrosis most commonly affects the ends (epiphysis) of long bones such as the femur (the bone extending from the knee joint to the hip joint). Other common sites include the humerus (the bone of the upper arm), knees, shoulders, ankles and the jaw. The disease may affect just one bone, more than one bone at the same time, or more than one bone at different times.
Avascular necrosis is especially common in the hip joint. A variety of methods are now used to treat avascular necrosis, the most common being the total hip replacement, or THR. However, THRs have a number of downsides including long recovery times and short life spans (of the hip joints). THRs are an effective means of treatment in the geriatric population; however, doctors shy away from using them in younger patients due to the reasons above. A new, more promising treatment is hip resurfacing or metal on metal (MOM) resurfacing. It is a form of a THR, however in this procedure, only the head of the femur is removed as opposed to a THR in which the entire neck is removed. MOM resurfacing is still experimental in America but has been endorsed in Great Britain as an excellent alternative to a THR.
A MOM resurfacing may not be suitable in all cases of avascular necrosis; its suitability depends on how much damage has occurred to the femoral head of the patien and bone is always undergoing change or remodelling. The bone is broken down by osteoclasts and rebuilt by osteoblasts. Some doctors also prescribe bisphosphonates (e.g. alendronate) which reduces the rate of bone breakdown by osteoclasts, thus preventing collapse (specifically of the hip) due to AVN.
Other treatments include core decompression, where internal bone pressure is relieved by drilling a hole into the bone, and a living bone chip and an electrical device to stimulate new vascular growth are implanted; and the free vascular fibular graft (FVFG), in which a portion of the fibula, along with its blood supply, is removed and transplanted into the femoral head.
Progression of the disease could possibly be halted by transplanting nucleated cells from bone marrow into avascular necrosis lesions after core decompression, although much further research is needed to establish this technique.