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What is Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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Legg-Calve-Perthes is a degenerative disease of the hip joint. Resulting from inadequate blood flow, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease can adversely affect the health and stability of one's hip. Also known as avascular necrosis of the hip, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is a childhood illness most frequently diagnosed in young boys. Multi-faceted in approach, treatment for this degenerative disease is centered on protecting the hip joint from irreparable damage. Common treatment options range from the use of medications designed to reduce inflammation to braces and surgery.

There is no known cause for the development of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. Some medical organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic, assert that its development may be linked to secondhand smoke exposure. Though the disease may present bilaterally, meaning it may affect both hips at the same time, it generally only occurs unilaterally, or on one side.

Under normal circumstances, proper circulation supplies all parts of the body with oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood. In the case of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, blood circulation intended to supply the hip joint becomes impaired. Blood-starved cells within the hip joint immediately begin to perish. The demise of bone cells contributes to the onset of bone deterioration, leaving the affected bone matter compromised even as new, healthy cells arrive. The resulting instability of the hip joint makes it vulnerable to fracture and unable to heal as it would normally.

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Legg-Calve-Perthes disease may be diagnosed at any point during childhood, but it is most commonly detected during the second year of a child’s life. The earlier the disease is detected, the better the child’s prognosis. Following a comprehensive consultation and physical examination, a battery of imaging tests is usually performed. Bone scans and X-rays are frequently conducted to evaluate the condition of the hip joint and to check for bone abnormalities or changes.

Children with Legg-Calve-Perthes disease will often exhibit a limp and complain of pain on the affected side. It is not uncommon for a restricted range of motion to induce stiffness that descends from the hip down into the knee. Some children may say that resting or not moving the joint eases the pain. Over time, a child’s limp can contribute to muscle constriction in the affected limb. If symptoms of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease are ignored or treatment is delayed, permanent damage to the hip joint may occur.

Treatment for Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is centered on preventing permanent damage to the hip joint. Anti-inflammatory medications are often used to alleviate inflammation and ease discomfort. Though the use of crutches to ease one’s limp may be appropriate in some cases, others may necessitate the use of a brace to immobilize the bone. Surgery may also be performed to correct muscle constriction or make adjustments to the hip joint.

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