Osteomyelitis is an infection in a bone. Osteomyelitis is caused by an infection that develops in the bone or spreads to the bone from another area, and may result in the formation of an abscess in the bone that blocks blood supply. In children, this condition commonly affects the long bones of the arms or legs and it is more common in the bones of the spine or hips in adults. Most cases of osteomyelitis are caused by germs or the staphylococcus bacteria, that has spread from infected skin, muscles or tendons. Bacteria may be transmitted from another part of the body to the bones, through the blood.

Risks Factors for Osteomyelitis

Most people have bones that are resistant to infection, making osteomyelitis more common in patients with weakened bones or immune systems. This may include patients who have poor circulation or those who have recently been injured or undergone orthopedic surgery. Individuals who may be at risk for infection and developing osteomyelitis may include:

  • Diabetes patients
  • IV drug users
  • Individuals who have received organ transplants
  • Patients undergoing chemotherapy

Patients who have conditions that require the use of medical tubing for dialysis or urinary catheters, may also be at risk for osteomyelitis, because the tubing provides a way for germs to enter the body, increasing the risk of infection.

Symptoms of Osteomyelitis

Symptoms of osteomyelitis may vary depending on the type of infection and the age of the patient. Patients with osteomyelitis may experience:

  • Fever
  • Pain in the affected area
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Fatigue

Some patients may feel irritable and experience an overall feeling of general discomfort.

Diagnosis of Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of symptoms. Blood tests are performed to test the levels of white blood cells to determine the presence of infection. Additional diagnostic tests may include:

  • Bone biopsy
  • X-rays
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans

A bone biopsy is most effective in diagnosing osteomyelitis because it can identify the type of germ that has infected the bone. Once the germ is identified, the doctor can create a specific treatment plan.

Treatment of Osteomyelitis

Hospitalization is often necessary when treating osteomyelitis. Osteomyelitis is initially treated with antibiotics to thoroughly remove and treat the infection. If the infection does not subside, surgery may be necessary. Surgery may include draining pus or fluid from the infected area, removing diseased bone and tissue or restoring blood flow to the bone. A bone or tissue graft may be needed after these procedures are performed. In very severe cases, a limb may be amputated to stop the infection from spreading further. Underlying conditions such as diabetes, should also be treated to reduce the risk of osteomyelitis from reoccurring.

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