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Osteomyelitis occurs when an infection develops in a bone or spreads to a bone from another area of the body. It's caused by bacteria or fungi. Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause. The infected bone may deteriorate and form a pocket (abscess) of pus in response to the infection. This may block blood supply to the bone. In cases of chronic osteomyelitis that last for years, the loss of blood supply may lead to death of the bone.
The bones are normally resistant to infection. In order for osteomyelitis to occur, a situation that makes the bones vulnerable must be present. For instance, trauma to the bone, such as a fracture, or to the soft tissue around the bone, such as a puncture wound, gives infections a route to enter the bone or nearby tissue. Individuals may also be vulnerable to infection if they have a condition that weakens their body's ability to fight an infection, such as HIV, diabetes or sickle cell anemia.
Signs and symptoms of osteomyelitis depend on whether the condition is acute, lasting several months or less, or chronic, lasting several months to years.
Signs and symptoms of acute osteomyelitis include:
- Fever that may be abrupt
- Irritability or lethargy in young children
- Pain in the area of the infection
- Swelling, warmth and redness over the area of the infection
Signs and symptoms of chronic osteomyelitis include:
- Warmth, swelling and redness over the area of the infection
- Pain or tenderness in the affected area
- Chronic fatigue
- Drainage from an open wound near the area of the infection
- Fever, sometimes
Sometimes osteomyelitis causes no signs and symptoms or has signs and symptoms that are difficult to distinguish from other problems. For instance, osteomyelitis of the hip, spine or pelvis may have few signs and symptoms. Osteomyelitis that occurs after a broken bone (fracture) or deep wound may cause pain and swelling that you may attribute to your injury, not an infection.
Osteomyelitis can be difficult to treat. The objective of treatment is to eliminate the infection and prevent it from getting worse. Antibiotics may be given to destroy the bacteria that are causing the infection.
For infections that do not go away, surgery may be needed to remove dead bone tissue. Surgical procedures may involve drainage of the infected area, removal of diseased bone and tissue, restoration of blood flow, or removal of foreign material.
An article from Medscape Reference provides information on osteomyelitis at the following link. You may need to register to view the article, but registration is free.
PubMed lists journal articles that discuss osteomyelitis. Click on the link to go to PubMed and review citations to these articles.
The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) is a federation of more than 130 nonprofit voluntary health organizations serving people with rare disorders. Click on the link to view information on this topic.
- Osteomyelitis. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research . June 3, 2010; http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/osteomyelitis/DS00759/DSECTION=all&METHOD=print. Accessed 9/28/2010.
- Osteomyelitis. MedlinePlus. May 30, 2012; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000437.htm. Accessed 10/17/2013.
- Osteomyelitis. Nemours Foundation. October 2013; http://kidshealth.org/teen/diseases_conditions/bones/osteomyelitis.html#. Accessed 10/17/2013.
- Zeller JL, Burke AE, Glass RM. Osteomyelitis. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). February 20, 2008; http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/299/7/858.pdf. Accessed 10/17/2013.