What is Osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone and bone marrow that can occur in any bone of the body and have a variety of causes. The most common cause of osteomyelitis is a bacterial infection, though it can be caused by fungi, viruses, and parasites as well. Symptoms range from fever and malaise to severe pain, limited movement, and tissue damage.

Causes of Osteomyelitis

The most common cause of osteomyelitis is a bacterial infection, typically Staphylococcus aureus, but other bacteria including Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, and Mycobacterium can also cause the infection. Other potential causes of the infection include trauma, surgery, improper treatment of fractures, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, or as a result of the spread of bacteria from a nearby infection.

Risk Factors for Developing Osteomyelitis

Certain people are at higher risk for developing osteomyelitis. Those most at risk include:

  • People who have a weakened immune system
  • People who have diabetes
  • People who have had a bone fracture, joint replacement, or any other injury that affects the bone
  • People who inject drugs
  • People with poor circulation, such as those with peripheral artery disease or Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Elderly people

Symptoms of Osteomyelitis

The symptoms of osteomyelitis can vary greatly depending on the type and severity of the infection. The most common symptoms of the infection include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Pain and tenderness near the infected site
  • Swelling and redness near the infected site
  • Limited movement in the affected area
  • Drainage of pus or other fluid from the wound
  • Nausea and vomiting

Diagnosis of Osteomyelitis

Diagnosis of osteomyelitis is based on physical examination, a review of the medical history, and certain tests including blood tests, imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans, and tissue biopsy. A culture of the fluid or tissue sample taken during the biopsy can help to identify the specific cause of the infection and guide the treatment plan.

Treatment of Osteomyelitis

The treatment of osteomyelitis typically involves a combination of antibiotics and supportive care. Antibiotics are typically prescribed for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks and are taken orally or intravenously. If the infection does not respond to antibiotics, surgery may be recommended to remove damaged tissues or bone. In some cases, the infected area may be packed with antibiotics to help treat the infection and promote healing.

Prevention of Osteomyelitis

The best way to prevent osteomyelitis is to practice good hygiene, especially handwashing, to reduce the risk of infection. Proper care of any fractures or broken bones is also important to help avoid the spread of infection. If you have diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels can help to reduce the risk of developing osteomyelitis, as can avoiding injecting drugs.