Osteomyelitis: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention


Osteomyelitis is an infection in a bone. Infection can happen in one part of the body and travels through the bloodstream, causing osteomyelitis. An open wound can cause infection as well. Most frequently, bone infections occur in the long bones of the arms and legs in children. In adults, the infections usually appear in the hips, spine, and feet. Osteomyelitis may develop over a long period of time or happen all of a sudden. Since it is a serious condition, immediate treatment should be taken. If not, the bone may be permanently damaged.

In general, osteomyelitis can be caused by bacteria, fungi, and other organisms. Injuries and surgeries that expose the bone to germs may lead to the disease too. Also, people who smoke and live with chronic diseases may be at higher risk of developing osteomyelitis. Though osteomyelitis can be a serious condition, the disease can be cured now. Patients can choose to surgically remove the affected bones and the treatment effects are usually promising.

As a rare condition, osteomyelitis only happens in 2 in 10,000 people. For the patient with sickle cell anemia, 0.36% of them develop the condition annually. While for people with foot puncture, the incidence can be as high as 16%. Moreover, the prevalence of vertebral osteomyelitis is about 2.4 cases out of 100,000 people.

Causes and Risk Factors

Typically, most bone infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, which travel through the bloodstream. The infection may also begin in the bone area if the organisms invade an open wound.

During surgery, if there is direct contamination with germs while replacing joints or repairing fractures, infections can happen as well. For people with a comprised immune system, they are inclined to be infected in an easier way.

Certain conditions may put people at higher risk of developing osteomyelitis, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Sickle cell disease
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Alcoholism
  • Long-term use of steroids
  • Hemodialysis
  • Poor blood supply
  • Recent injury
  • Bone surgery
  • Peripheral artery disease, often related to smoking
  • Dialysis machine tubing
  • Urinary catheters
  • Long-term intravenous tubing
  • Conditions that impair the immune system
  • Illicit drugs
  • Splenectomy surgery


Common signs and symptoms of osteomyelitis are as follows:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Redness in the affected area
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Pain in the affected area
  • Stiffness in the affected limb
  • Irritability
  • Tenderness
  • Nausea

It is worth mentioning that the symptoms of osteomyelitis may vary from individual to individual. In some cases, people with the condition may show no symptoms at all, which is especially true for infants, older people and people with comprised immune systems.


Getting an accurate diagnosis is vital to later treatment. In the diagnostic process, the doctor may take several ways to confirm the condition. A physical examination will be performed at the beginning so that the doctor can make a primary diagnosis.

Then, to confirm a diagnosis, a blood test and some imaging tests will be ordered. In the blood test, the doctor will check the number of white blood cells, which are in charge of attacking and destroying the organisms that cause infections. If there appears an infection, the number of white blood cells usually tend to be elevated. Also, the blood test result can help the doctor to determine which organism causes the infection exactly.

Then, X-ray tests and MRI scans may be ordered so that the doctor can better visualize the situation and make an exact diagnosis. With the diagnosis, the doctor usually tailors the treatment for each and every patient.


To cure bone infections, antibiotics are often prescribed by the doctor. In the beginning, the doctor may choose to administer the antibiotic intravenously. Then, the patient can take the medicine orally.

However, in some cases, surgery is also required. In this procedure, the doctor will remove the affected bone and dead tissues and drain any abscesses. Under the condition that osteomyelitis occurs in the spinal area and causes spinal instability, a spinal fusion procedure may be done as well so that the spinal column can remain stable.


You can do the following things to prevent osteomyelitis:

  • Handle open wound carefully
  • Using sterile bandages for cuts
  • Keep your feet away from infection if you have diabetes
  • Avoid cuts, scrapes and animal scratches or bites
  • Seek medical treatment if the wound does not heal

Keyword: osteomyelitis.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.