What is Osteomyelitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Definition: Osteomyelitis is a serious infection of the bonethat needs immediate treatment with antibiotics. Generally, surgery is necessary if the infection becomes severe or persistent.

Main causes of Osteomyelitis

Different types of germs (bacteria) can cause osteomyelitis. However, infection with a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus is the most common cause.

Infection by a fungus is a rare cause. The most common cause in children is through the bloodstream. Bacteria sometimes enter the blood from an infection in another part of the body and then travel to the bone. Even if you are healthy, bacteria can sometimes get through the blood in your nose or intestine.

Following an injury. Bacteria can spread to the bones if you have a deep cut in the skin.

What bones can be affected?

The long bones of the leg (femur, tibia and fibula) are the most commonly affected. However, osteomyelitis can affect any bone (although it is very rare in some of them).

What are the symptoms of osteomyelitis?

  • Pain and sensitivity in a bone area.
  • A knot can develop into a bone.
  • Reddening of the skin that covers it may develop.
  • Sensation of general malaise with fever (high temperature).
  • If osteomyelitis develops after a fracture of a bone, then symptoms include increased redness, swelling and pain around the fracture site. Pus can come out of the skin wound more than a fracture.

Are tests needed? Tests to confirm the diagnosis

If you have the typical symptoms that come from an infection of a leg bone, then the diagnosis can be quite clear.

However, pain from deeper bones such as the spine or pelvis can be due to a number of causes. A magnetic resonance of the cord will help confirm the diagnosis. (A simple x-ray is not as useful in the early stages of osteomyelitis ).

The blood usually contains some bacteria from the bone infection. Blood samples are sent to the laboratory to identify what type of bacteria is causing the infection. This is important, as it will help you decide what is the best treatment. (Since some bacteria are resistant to some antibiotics).

If the blood tests show no bacteria, then a small sample (biopsy) of the affected bone is needed to be sent to the laboratory.

If the infection of the bone is through the skin and pus is present, an aspiration will be performed in order to analyze it to identify the type of bacteria.

What is the treatment of osteomyelitis? Antibiotics

Treatment with antibiotics usually starts as soon as possible. However, sometimes you can switch to a different antibiotic when the test results confirm the bacteria that is causing the infection. (Some bacteria are resistant to some antibiotics.)

Symptoms can be resolved fairly quickly after you start taking an antibiotic. You may have to take the medication for 4 to 6 weeks, but if you have a serious infection, the course may last up to twelve weeks. This is in order to make sure that the infection has not passed to other bones.

To control pain, analgesics can be given and if you have an infection in a long bone (such as an arm or a leg), the patient may be conditioned to use a splint to restrict movement.