Is a Bone Infection (Osteomyelitis)?
A bone infection, also called osteomyelitis, can result when
bacteria or fungi invade a bone.
In children, bone infections most commonly occur in the long
bones of the arms and legs. In adults, they usually appear in the hips, spine,
Bone infections can happen suddenly or develop over a long period
of time. If they’re not properly treated, bone infections can leave a bone
Many organisms, most commonly staphylococcus, travel
through the bloodstream and can cause a bone infection. An infection may begin
in one area of the body and spread to the bones via the blood stream.
Organisms that invade a severe injury, deep cut, or wound can
also cause infections in nearby bones. Bacteria can enter your system at a
surgical site, such as the site of a hip replacement or bone fracture repair.
When your bone breaks, bacteria can invade the bone, leading to osteomyelitis.
The most common cause of bone infections is Staphylococcus
aureus bacteria. These bacteria commonly appear on the skin but don’t
always cause health problems. However, the bacteria can overpower an immune
system that’s weakened by disease and illness. These bacteria can also cause
infections in injured areas.
Are the Symptoms?
Usually, the first symptom to appear is pain at the infection
site. Other common signs are:
- fever and chills
- redness in the infected area
- irritability or generally feeling unwell
- drainage from the area
- swelling in the affected area
- stiffness or inability to use an affected limb
Is Osteomyelitis Diagnosed?
Your doctor may use several methods to diagnose your condition if
you have any symptoms of a bone infection. They will perform a physical exam to
check for swelling, pain, and discoloration. Your doctor may order lab and
diagnostic tests to determine the exact location and extent of the infection.
It’s likely your doctor will order a blood test to check for the
organisms causing the infection. Other tests to check for the bacteria are throat
swabs, urine cultures, and stool analyses.
Another possible test is a bone scan, which reveals the cellular
and metabolic activity in your bones. It uses a type of radioactive substance
to highlight the bone tissue. If the bone scan doesn’t provide enough
information, you may need an MRI scan. In some cases, a bone biopsy may be
However, a simple bone X-ray may be enough for your doctor to
determine the treatment that’s right for you.
Are the Treatments for Osteomyelitis?
There are several options your doctor may use to treat your bone
Antibiotics may be all that’s necessary to cure your bone
infection. Your doctor may administer the antibiotics directly into your veins
(intravenously) if the infection is severe. You may need to take the
antibiotics for up to six weeks.
Surgery may be required for bone infections. If you have surgery,
your surgeon will remove the infected bone and dead tissue and drain any
abscesses, or pockets of pus.
If you have a prosthesis that’s causing the infection, your
doctor may remove and replace it with a new one. Your doctor will also remove
any dead tissue near or surrounding the infected area.
Is at Risk for Osteomyelitis?
There are a few conditions and circumstances that can increase
your chances of osteomyelitis, such as:
- diabetic disorders that affect blood supply to
- intravenous drug use
- hemodialysis, which is a treatment used for
- trauma to the tissue surrounding the bone
- artificial joints or hardware that has become
- sickle cell disease
- peripheral arterial disease
You Prevent Osteomyelitis?
Thoroughly wash and clean any cuts or open wounds in the skin.
Report any wounds or cuts that don’t heal to your doctor. Clean and dry
amputation sites before placing your prosthesis. Also, use the proper footwear
and protective equipment to avoid injuries when jumping, running, or
participating in sports.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Most cases of osteomyelitis are treatable. Chronic infections of
the bone, however, may take longer to treat and heal, especially if they
require surgery. Treatment should be aggressive because an amputation can
become necessary sometimes. The outlook for this condition is good if the
infection is treated early.