Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. It is usually caused by bacteria that enters the body through a wound or spreads from an infection elsewhere in the body. Osteomyelitis needs to be treated early to get rid of the infection and prevent damage to the bone.
In most cases, osteomyelitis is caused by a type of bacteria found on the skin, the staphylococcus bacteria. The bone may become infected after an injury, such as a bone fracture, or surgery.
When osteomyelitis develops as a result of an infection, injury or underlying condition, it is called acute osteomyelitis. If the condition continues or keeps coming back, it is called chronic osteomyelitis.
If you have osteomyelitis, you may experience:
- pain in the affected bones
- swelling, redness and warmth in the affected area
- general discomfort
Your doctor may diagnose osteomyelitis by examining you, doing a blood test and a bone scan or other scans. Although a blood test cannot tell whether you have osteomyelitis, it may be used to detect signs of infection, including the bacteria causing the infection. Sometimes your doctor will take a bone biopsy, where a small piece of bone is removed for testing.
Acute osteomyelitis is usually treated with antibiotics for at least 4 to 6 weeks. The antibiotics are first given intravenously (through a vein), then as tablets once symptoms improve.
In more severe cases, and for chronic osteomyelitis, you may also need surgery to remove damaged bone or tissue.
Osteomyelitis can be successfully treated. However, it is important to prevent it from happening again. Your doctor will advise you on the steps you should take.
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Last reviewed: July 2019