Osteomyelitis
(Bone Infection)

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Osteomyelitis facts

  • Osteomyelitis is infection of bone.
  • Osteomyelitis can occur in any age group.
  • Treatment of osteomyelitis can include antibiotics, splinting, or surgery.
  • A delay in diagnosis or treatment of osteomyelitis can lead to permanent deficits.

What is osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis is infection in the bone. Osteomyelitis can occur in infants, children, and adults. Different types of bacteria typically affect the different age groups. In children, osteomyelitis most commonly occurs at the ends of the long bones of the arms and legs, affecting the hips, knees, shoulders, and wrists. In adults, it is more common in the bones of the spine (vertebrae), feet, or in the pelvis.

What causes osteomyelitis?

There are several different ways to develop the bone infection of osteomyelitis. The first is for bacteria to travel through the bloodstream (bacteremia) and spread to the bone, causing an infection. This most often occurs when the patient has an infection elsewhere in the body, such as pneumonia or a urinary tract infection, that spreads through the blood to the bone.

An open wound over a bone can lead to osteomyelitis. This happens most commonly with underlying peripheral vascular disease, peripheral neuropathy, or diabetes. With an open fracture (compound fracture), the bone that punctures through the skin is exposed to bacteria. This increases the risk of osteomyelitis.

A recent surgery or injection around a bone can also expose the bone to bacteria and lead to osteomyelitis.

Patients with conditions or taking medications that weaken their immune system are at a higher risk of developing osteomyelitis. Risk factors include cancer, chronic steroid use, sickle cell disease, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), diabetes, hemodialysis, intravenous drug users, and the elderly.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/24/2012

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Symptoms of Osteomyelitis

Acute osteomyelitis develops rapidly over a period of seven to 10 days. The symptoms for acute and chronic osteomyelitis are very similar and include:

  • Fever, irritability, fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Tenderness and swelling around the affected bone
  • Lost range of motion

Osteomyelitis in the vertebrae makes itself known through severe back pain, especially at night.

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