Osteitis fibrosa is a complication of hyperparathyroidism, a condition in which overactive parathyroid glands cause certain bones to become abnormally weak and deformed.
The parathyroid glands are 4 tiny glands in the neck. These glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH). PTH helps control calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels in the blood and is important for healthy bones.
Too much parathyroid hormone (hyperparathyroidism) can lead to increased bone breakdown, which can cause bones to become weaker and more fragile. Many people with hyperparathyroidism eventually develop osteoporosis. Not all bones respond to PTH in the same way. Some develop abnormal areas where the bone is very soft and has almost no calcium in it. This is osteitis fibrosa.
In rare cases, parathyroid cancer causes osteitis fibrosa.
Osteitis fibrosa is now very rare in people who have hyperparathyroidism who have good access to medical care. It is more common in people who develop hyperparathyroidism at a young age, or who have untreated hyperparathyroidism for a long time.
Osteitis fibrosa may cause bone pain or tenderness. There may be fractures (breaks) in the arms, legs, or spine, or other bone problems.
Hyperparathyroidism itself may cause any of the following:
- Frequent urination
Exams and Tests
Blood tests show a high level of calcium, parathyroid hormone, and alkaline phosphatase (a bone chemical). Phosphorus level in the blood may be low.
A bone x-ray or bone density test may be done. People with hyperparathyroidism are more likely to have osteopenia (thin bones) or osteoporosis (very thin bones) than to have full-blown osteitis fibrosa.
Most of the bone problems from osteitis fibrosa can be reversed with surgery to remove the abnormal parathyroid gland(s). Some people may choose not to have surgery, and instead be followed with blood tests and bone measurements.
If surgery is not possible, medicines can sometimes be used to lower the blood calcium level.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your health care provider if you have bone pain, tenderness, or symptoms of hyperparathyroidism.
Routine blood tests done during a medical checkup or for another health problem usually detect a high calcium level before severe damage is done.
Osteitis fibrosa cystica; Hyperparathyroidism - osteitis fibrosa; Brown tumor of bone
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Patsch JM, Krestan CR. Metabolic and endocrine skeletal disease. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 43.
Thakker RV. The parathyroid glands, hypercalcemia and hypocalcemia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 232.
Review Date 4/29/2022
Updated by: Sandeep K. Dhaliwal, MD, board-certified in Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, Springfield, VA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.