What is Osteomyelitis?

Essentially, Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that causes inflammation. With fewer than 1,000 cases in the United States every year, it is a very rare condition. However, that does not make it any less serious. The infection can occur in a number of ways, such as bone surgery or an open fracture. Regardless, most cases see a type of staph bacteria as their source.

Certain conditions can increase an individual’s risk for developing osteomyelitis, including HIV or AIDS, sickle cell disease, diabetes, intravenous drug use, rheumatoid arthritis, peripheral vascular disease, alcoholism, and steroid use. Bone infections can be acute or chronic. Acute cases set in quickly, usually seven to ten days, and are easier to treat. Chronic osteomyelitis often recurs despite treatment. In children, the condition often appears in the bones of the legs or arms. Adults are more likely to be affected in the vertebrae of the spine, the pelvic bones, or the feet.

What are the Symptoms of Osteomyelitis?

Regardless of whether the infection is acute or chronic, most people will experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Swelling around affected bone
  • Limited range of motion
  • Nausea
  • Redness, tenderness, and warmth at the site of infection
  • Severe back pain (for spinal infections)

Osteomyelitis Causes

Although both types of osteomyelitis – acute and chronic – are caused by some kind of bacteria, the specific strain of bacteria depends somewhat upon the type of osteomyelitis. The bacteria may enter through various ways: the bloodstream, an open wound, infected tissue, or infected prosthetic joint.

Acute osteomyelitis, which is usually found in children, is most often caused by a strain of staph bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. This bacteria enters the bloodstream and then invades the individual’s bone.

Chronic osteomyelitis is the type of osteomyelitis which more often affects adults and can be caused by any type of bacteria. When an individual has an open wound near the bone, chronic osteomyelitis is even more likely to occur.

There are certain risk factors which increase a person’s susceptibility to developing osteomyelitis. Most cases of the disease stem from diabetes. Conditions which weaken and hinder an individual’s immune system tend to render an individual more vulnerable to developing the disease.

Apart from diabetes, these conditions are as follows:

  • Alcoholism
  • Extended use of steroids
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Poor blood supply
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Hemodialysis
  • Bone surgery

How is Osteomyelitis Treated?

The first step in treating osteomyelitis is getting a clear idea of what exactly is going on. This may involve the use of blood tests, x-rays, bone scans, and MRIs. A bone biopsy will confirm the diagnosis. These tests will identify which organism is contributing to the infection so doctors can recommend the proper treatments. Since the goal is to stop the infection as quickly as possible, antibiotics are prescribed. The first several weeks are given through an IV before the dosage is switched to a pill. More serious cases – and sometimes chronic infections – could require surgery. Left unchecked, osteomyelitis can spread until amputation is the only solution left to stop it.

Osteomyelitis Prevention:

The most effective method of prevention against any kind of osteomyelitis is preventing or quickly treating flesh and wound infections. Prevent infections by cleaning them properly, bandaging them, avoiding their exposure to possible harmful agents or substances, and monitoring open for any sign of infection – especially if the wounds are deep and/or close to the bone. Treat any suspected infections immediately.

Additionally, following a few tips may help you reduce your likelihood to develop osteomyelitis:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water is unavailable, use hand sanitizer
  • Avoid cigarettes and cigarette smoke
  • Avoid illegal (especially intravenous) drug use
  • Make sure that all of your immunizations up-to-date.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle with a well-balanced diet, sufficient physical activity, and minimal-to-no consumption of alcohol.