What is osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis is an inflammation or
swelling of bone tissue. It’s most often caused by an infection. Bone infection may
occur for many reasons. It can affect children or adults.

What causes osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis can be caused by a
bacterial infection of the blood. This is sometimes called bacteremia or sepsis. This
infection can spread to the bone. It’s most common in babies and children. It usually
affects their long bones such as the thighbone or upper arm bone. In adults, it often
affects the bones in the spine. The source of the blood infection is usually
Staphylococcus aureus. But it may be caused by
other germs.

Other causes include:

  • An injury or surgery
  • Frequent medicine injections
  • Diabetes
  • A weak immune system (such as HIV or
    getting cancer treatment)
  • A prosthetic device

Osteomyelitis can have a sudden
start, a slow and mild start, or may be a chronic problem. This depends on the source
and cause of the infection.

Who is at risk for osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis can affect anyone.
But, it is more common in babies, children, and older adults. People at greater risk
include those with a weak immune systems, recent injury or surgery, or diabetes.

What are the symptoms of osteomyelitis?

Symptoms of osteomyelitis vary, depending on the cause and whether it starts quickly or slowly. These are the most common:

  • A new limp
  • A stiff back, if the spine is
  • Feeling ill
  • Fever (high fever with blood
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Pain in the affected area
  • Redness in the affected area
  • Swelling of the affected area
  • Trouble bearing weight or walking
  • Trouble moving joints near the
    affected area
  • Warmth in the affected area

The symptoms of osteomyelitis may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is osteomyelitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will
review your medical history and give you a physical exam. You may have tests. These may

  • Blood
    , such as:

    • Complete blood count
      This test measures the size, number, and maturity
      of blood cells. It’s done to check for increased white blood cells that may
      signal an infection.
    • Erythrocyte sedimentation
      rate (ESR). 
      This test measures how quickly red blood cells fall
      to the bottom of a test tube. When swelling and inflammation are present, the
      blood’s proteins clump together and become heavier than normal. They fall and
      settle faster at the bottom of the test tube. The faster the blood cells fall,
      the more severe the inflammation.
    • C-reactive protein
      This is a blood test to help find inflammation or an
    • Blood culture. This is a
      blood test that looks for bacteria or other germs in the blood.
  • Needle aspiration or bone
    A small needle is inserted into the affected area to take a
    tissue biopsy.
  • X-ray. This test uses
    invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make images of tissues, bones, and organs
    onto film.
  • Radionuclide bone
    Pictures or X-rays are taken of the bone after a dye is injected
    and absorbed by the bone tissue. These are used to find tumors, infection and bone
  • CT scan. This test uses
    X-rays and a computer to make images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan
    shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and
    organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
  • MRI. This test uses
    large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and
    structures in the body.
  • Ultrasound. This test
    uses high frequency sound waves and a computer to make images of blood vessels,
    tissues, and organs. Ultrasounds are used to view organs as they work, and to check
    blood flow through blood vessels.