What is osteomyelitis?
Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. It needs to be treated early to get rid of the infection and prevent damage to the bone.
What are the symptoms of osteomyelitis?
If you have osteomyelitis, you may experience:
- pain and stiffness in the affected bones
- swelling, redness and warmth in the affected area
- fluid or pus near the infection
- general discomfort
What are the causes of osteomyelitis?
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.
Osteomyelitis can also develop when an infection in another part of the body, such as a urinary tract infection or pneumonia, spreads through the blood to the bone.
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.
Osteomyelitis is more common in people who have immune system problems or a chronic disease such as diabetes, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell anemia or kidney disease that requires dialysis.
How is osteomyelitis diagnosed?
Your doctor may diagnose osteomyelitis by examining you, doing a blood test or swabbing the wound. 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 tissue or bone biopsy, where a small piece of bone is removed for testing. They may do imaging tests such as x-rays, MRI, CT scan, bone scan or ultrasound.
How is osteomyelitis treated?
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, surgery may be needed to remove damaged bone or tissue, or infected plates or screws.
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: June 2021