Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

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Contents of this page:



Definition    Return to top

Osteomyelitis is an acute or chronic bone infection, usually caused by bacteria.

Causes    Return to top

Bone infection can be caused by bacteria or by fungus. The infection that causes osteomyelitis often starts in another part of the body and spreads to the bone through the blood. An injury may have made the affected bone more likely to develop the infection.

In children, the long bones are usually affected. In adults, the feet, vertebrae, and the pelvis are most commonly affected.

Risk factors are recent trauma, diabetes, hemodialysis, and IV drug abuse. People who have had their spleen removed are also at higher risk for osteomyelitis.

Osteomyelitis affects about 2 in 10,000 people.

Symptoms    Return to top

Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

A physical examination shows bone tenderness and possibly swelling and redness.

Tests may include:

This disease may alter the results of the following tests:

Treatment    Return to top

The objective of treatment is to eliminate the infection and prevent it from getting worse.

Antibiotics will be given to destroy the bacteria that are causing the infection.

Surgery may be needed to remove dead bone tissue if you have an infection that does not go away. The open space left by the removed bone tissue may be filled with bone graft or packing material that promotes the growth of new bone tissue. Antibiotics are continued for at least 6 weeks after surgery.

Infection of an orthopedic prosthesis may require surgical removal of the prosthesis and infected tissue surrounding the area. A new prosthesis may be implanted in the same operation or delayed until the infection has gone away.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

When treatment is received, the outcome for acute osteomyelitis is usually good.

The outlook is worse for those with long-term (chronic) osteomyelitis, even with surgery. Amputation may be needed, especially in those with diabetes or poor blood circulation.

The outlook is guarded in those who have an infection of a prosthesis.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When the bone is infected, pus is produced within the bone, which may result in an abscess. The abscess steals the bone's blood supply. The lost blood supply can result in a complication called chronic osteomyelitis. This chronic infection can persist on and off for years.

Other complications include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of osteomyelitis, or if you have osteomyelitis and the symptoms persist despite treatment.

Prevention    Return to top

Prompt and complete treatment of infections is helpful. High-risk people should see a health care provider promptly if they have signs of an infection anywhere in the body.

References    Return to top

Berbari EF, Steckelberg JM. Osmon DR. Osteomyelitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. London: Churchill Livingstone; 2005:chap 99.

Espinoza LR. Infections of Bursae, Joints, and Bones. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 293.

Update Date: 9/3/2008

Updated by: D. Scott Smith, M.D., MSc, DTM&H, Chief of Infectious Disease & Geographic Medicine, Kaiser Redwood City, CA & Adjunct Assistant Professor, Stanford University.  Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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