Osteomyelitis. What is it?

Defined as an infection of the bone, Osteomyelitis, while relatively rare, brings serious complications that can be life-threatening.  Individuals that experience this infection at a high risk of severe illness.

The severity of the illness is mainly dependent upon the source of the infection. In a few cases of osteomyelitis, the initial symptoms may not be severe. In other cases, this condition can become a chronic, long-lasting problem.

Because osteomyelitis is so varied in its causation, symptoms, and severity levels, it can be difficult to identify. It can often be confused with other medical problems due to the similarity of symptoms.

This is definitely a condition that involves prompt consultation with a medical professional to receive proper evaluation and treatment to achieve the best outcome.

Who can get Osteomyelitis?

Individuals at the highest risk of developing osteomyelitis are young children who have suffered a traumatic injury, people who suffer from diabetes, and individuals who have compromised immune systems. 

Common Causes of Osteomyelitis

The most common cause of osteomyelitis is a bacterial infection from Staphylococcus Aureus. However, of note is the increasing number of cases of bone infection by MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. 

In some cases, the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the cause of infection.  As a result, antibiotic treatment often has to be adjusted to make sure that bacterial resistance doesn’t lead to the failure of antibiotic therapy.

The manner in which bacteriais transmitted to the bone, however, can vary widely. 

Below are the most common ways this bacteria can infect the bone:

  • Via the Bloodstream

Sometimes bacteria can be introduced into the bloodstream and can travel to the bones through the bloodstream to cause infection. For example, this can sometimes happen when people have blood drawn or an intravenous catheter inserted for medical therapy.  Another way bacteria can be introduced into the bloodstream is through recreational intravenous drug use.

  • Through Surgical Complications (during hip replacement or fracture repair, for example)

Orthopedic surgeons make extreme efforts to create the cleanest sterile environment to perform surgical procedures on bones.  The risk of infection is extremely high due to the innate nature of surgery on the bone. Orthopedists are often operating on extremities that have had direct exposure to bacteria, such as in open fractures.  In addition, when the surgical procedure involves a prosthesis, such as in a total knee or total hip replacement, infection is often catastrophic.

  • Direct Injury (i.e., puncture wound, deep laceration, or open fracture)

One example of a high-risk situation for the development of osteomyelitis is in the case of the diabetic foot ulcer.   Sometimes these wounds can get out of control and worsen and extend even further down to the level of the bone.  This direct exposure to external infection can often lead to osteomyelitis.

The best results in treating the infection are achieved through immediate and diligent treatment.  Delay in care can lead to the need for emergent amputation.

Necessary Treatments

Treating bone infections will involve intravenous antibiotics per recommended standard of care protocols. If the infection does not improve or worsens, then surgical treatment will become the only option. Some cases will require both treatments.

Amputation may end up being the only option to prevent overwhelming infection and subsequent risk of death. 

The importance of prevention of infection in the first place is paramount.

Outlook on Prevention

Prevention of osteomyelitis starts with prevention of any minor infection, which can be achieved by remaining hygienic and keeping things clean around you. Moreover, it’s important to remain vigilant of your surroundings and try to avoid potentially “dirty” conditions if you have some type of open wound or injury that’s vulnerable to infection.  For example, don’t go swimming anywhere when you have an open wound.

If you have a minor laceration, make sure that you keep it as clean as possible. Daily care with wound care items suggested by a health care provider and clean dressings are the best practices. 

Suppose you suffer from other health complications such as diabetes, for example. In that case, it’s imperative to frequently examine your body for any signs of cuts or scrapes or other wounds, as these can be a source of infection as well.

Lastly, if you do develop signs of infection, early consultation with a physician is the best way to resolve the issue quickly before it becomes a bigger problem.

Final Thoughts

While the outlook for osteomyelitis can be grim, it can be treated successfully with rapid diagnosis. In many cases, if caught early, osteomyelitis can heal without the need for surgery or radically invasive treatment.

On the contrary, if not treated quickly, the result can be catastrophic.

To summarize, stay clean, practice good hygiene, and remain hyper-vigilant if you happen upon an open wound of any sort. If you’re concerned or begin to notice unusual symptoms for any reason, be sure to consult with your doctor right away.

Medical Disclaimer

The information here is for general information only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  All content, including text, graphics, images and information, contained on or available through this web site is for general information purposes only. Please see links to research below, and read our Medical Disclaimer here.

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