Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone caused by a bacteria called staphylococcus aureus. Quite rare but a serious condition, it spreads from a part of the body through the bloodstream further into the bone. Our bones can become infected in several ways. It could be due to an open fracture, surgery, or exposure to some unwarranted infection.

Certain chronic ailments like diabetes, HIV, or peripheral vascular disease also increase the chances of developing osteomyelitis. As a matter of fact, on an average, only 5 out of every 10,000 people get infected with this ailment. Some health conditions that cause the immune system to weaken can also increase a person's risk of this bone disease. In adults, osteomyelitis can be either acute or chronic and it can affect the pelvis or vertebrae of the spine. In diabetic people, it sometimes occurs in the feet. In children, osteomyelitis usually shows up in arms or legs.

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Who Can Get Osteomyelitis?

Anyone can develop osteomyelitis, but you are at an increased risk of getting an infection in the bone due to the following anomalies:

  • In case of a recent surgery on a bone including hip and knee replacement
  • In case immune system has been weak in recent past
  • If chemotherapy has been done in recent times
  • When there is some other underlying serious illness
  • If there has been a history of osteomyelitis
  • If there has been a problem of diabetic foot ulcers
  • If an infection in the blood has been observed
  • In case of history of sickle cell disease
  • If HIV or AIDS has been treated for
  • History of rheumatoid arthritis in the past
  • In case there has been an intravenous drug usage or excessive use of alcohol
  • If steroids have been used for a longer time
  • Haemodialysis to treat advanced kidney failure has been conducted

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Symptoms of Osteomyelitis

Acute osteomyelitis develops rapidly over a period of 10 to 15 days.  The symptoms of acute and chronic osteomyelitis are very similar and include the following:

  • Pain in the bone of the affected area
  • Lost range of motion
  • Tenderness and reddishness in the infected bone
  • Swelling around the affected bone accompanied by fever
  • High-grade fever and shivering
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drainage of abscess

Diagnosis Of Osteomyelitis

The diagnosis of osteomyelitis may be difficult. Patients with suspected osteomyelitis often arrive with ulcers or draining wounds. Doctors order a combination of tests and procedures to diagnose osteomyelitis and to determine which bacteria is causing the infection. Blood cultures, X-rays, blood tests, MRI, ultrasounds, and radionuclide bone scans are done to get an accurate picture apart from a bone biopsy that determines the exact cause of the disease.


Despite major surgical advancements, osteomyelitis remains extremely hard to treat with high relapse rates. Osteomyelitis patients are put on antibiotics that are injected intravenously. Treatment through antibiotics is done to bring the infection under control and to avoid surgery. Serious or chronic osteomyelitis requires a surgical procedure to remove the infected tissue. Surgery is done to prevent the infection from spreading further or protecting the situation from worsening so much that amputation remains the only option. Treatment of chronic osteomyelitis usually requires aggressive surgical debridement besides prolonged antimicrobial therapy. Sometimes muscle and skin from another part of the body are grafted to repair the area near the affected bone.

Preventing Osteomyelitis

A difficult ailment to diagnose and treat, the best way to prevent osteomyelitis is to keep things under control in the beginning. Whenever there is a cut, wash out any open wound under running water. If mild, let it dry keeping it resistant to any bacterial infection, and watch for any pain or swelling. If acute and dressing is needed, a sterile bandage and a prescribed ointment should be used under medical supervision.

In cases where osteomyelitis is diagnosed and confirmed, the doctor should know about complete medical history to keep things in check. If you have diabetes, pay close attention to your feet, and contact your doctor when you notice any signs of infection. Apart from the pain, rounds of intravenous injections, therapies, and the hassle of repeated infections, getting osteomyelitis in control at the earliest provides the best chance for recovery. The sooner you treat osteomyelitis, the easier it is for the body to handle it.