Osteomyelitis (Bone Infection)

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection caused by bacteria or, in rare cases, a fungus. Your bones are a living tissue and, like other tissues in your body, can become infected by microbes.

Causes of Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis may begin from an infection that spreads to your bone from neighboring tissue or through the blood. A bone that has suffered an injury is more prone to bone infection.

Signs and Symptoms

You may have osteomyelitis if you experience pain or tenderness in a bone. You may also experience the inability to use or bear any weight on the affected limb. In addition, if you suffer from fever, chills, irritability, stiffness and swelling or redness over the affected bone there is a possibility you have osteomyelitis. However, exact diagnosis can only be made by your doctor. You should call your doctor immediately if the pain or fever worsens and you suspect a possible bone infection.

Who Is at Risk

Osteomyelitis can happen at any age and affect any bone in your body. However, there are some medical conditions that increase the risk of osteomyelitis. These include hemodialysis, injected drug use and spleen removal. Patients with poor blood supply or blood circulation problems, like diabetics, smokers and people with sickle cell anemia are also at increased risk of osteomyelitis. A recent bone injury or orthopedic surgery are also factors that increase the risk of infection by allowing germs to access the bone.

Complications of Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a serious health condition and if left untreated the infection can spread to other bones and other parts of your body. This can cause a widespread infection, sepsis and in severe cases, even bone death. Your doctor may need to amputate the infected bone and tissue surrounding it, in order to stop the infection from spreading further.

Diagnosing Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis can be diagnosed by bone biopsy and different imaging techniques. Blood tests can also be done. However, this will only give an indication of an infection in your body and does not specify a bone infection. A bone biopsy is a more accurate method to diagnose osteomyelitis and also allows the identification of the microbe behind the infection. The biopsy is done under general or local anesthesia and can be done either as an open biopsy or with a long needle through your skin. Imaging techniques include computerized tomography (CT) scan, X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). CT and MRI scans are more accurate than X-rays in diagnosing osteomyelitis.

Treatment Options

Treatment of osteomyelitis includes administration of IV or oral antibiotics to fight the bacterial infection. The antibiotics are usually given for at least four to six weeks, and sometimes even longer. Surgery may be required to remove damaged bone tissue. The outcome from acute osteomyelitis is usually good with proper treatment and you can have a full recovery. However, the outlook is worse for patients with long-term chronic osteomyelitis. In severe cases, when the infection does not go away, amputation may be needed to remove the dead and infected tissue.


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