Image Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine
What is Osteomyelitis?
Our bones are the backbone of our existence. As the primary support structure of the body, our bone structure is often a part of our beings that we don’t think about unless there’s an underlying issue. Within the skeletal structure, it is possible to develop bacterial or fungal infections of the bones. This condition is classified as osteomyelitis and is a condition that affects about 2 out of every 10,000 people.
Osteomyelitis is a condition that can worsen if left untreated, and during proliferation, bones can lose access to blood supply and ultimately result in bone tissue loss. As a rare, yet serious condition, it is possible that the bones can become infected via a multitude of ways including via the bloodstream, or more commonly via a medium such as an open fracture or a surgical procedure.
Who does Osteomyelitis affect?
Osteomyelitis can affect both adults and children, though it is often less severe in children. With children, the acute osteomyelitis they develop is actually easier to treat, and it will quickly heal. Children often experience this condition in their arms or legs.
Adults can experience either chronic cases of osteomyelitis or acute ones. Adults with conditions such as diabetes, compromised immune systems, or vascular conditions are more susceptible to osteomyelitis. The regions most affected in adults include the feet, the pelvis or the vertebrae of the spine.
A comprehensive list of conditions that can induce osteomyelitis is highlighted below :
- Diabetes (most cases of osteomyelitis stem from diabetes)
- Sickle cell disease
- HIV or AIDS
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Intravenous drug use
- Long-term use of steroids
- Poor blood supply
- Recent injury
What causes Osteomyelitis?
Osteomyelitis is a condition that is induced by a variety of microbial agents in the environment. The most prevalent inducer of osteomyelitis is found to be staphylococcus aureus.
Osteomyelitis inducing conditions include:
- Open fractures that can result in infection of the skin and ultimately the bones. When a fracture results in bone protrusion, it does affect the odds of developing osteomyelitis.
- If a blood clot develops around a bone due to minor trauma, a secondary infection can result during the healing process. This condition can then induce an infection into the bones.
- If there is bacteria in the bloodstream, it can actually become deposited onto the bones. If there is an accumulation of bacteria, the bone can become infected and degenerate.
Symptoms of osteomyelitis
Osteomyelitis is a condition that has several symptoms that are experienced by patients. These include :
- Pain, redness, tenderness and warmth sensations in the affected area.
- Swelling, redness and warmth in the infected area.
- Nausea, secondarily from being ill with infection.
- General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling.
- Drainage of pus (thick yellow fluid) through the skin.
- Excessive Sweating
- Lower back pain for those who are affected in the spine
- Changes in the gait
Identification of the underlying osteomyelitis condition is the first step in medical treatment. An orthopaedic surgeon will usually include a detailed analysis of the patient. This analysis will include X-rays, blood tests and bone scans in order to identify what is truly happening in the internal state of the body. The critical test in ensuring that the treatment is customized to the patient is the bone biopsy. The bacterial count and identification can be determined by the test, and the orthopaedic specialist will then be able to prescribe the right medications to heal the bacterial accumulation.
While the initial treatment will focus on antibiotic treatment, it is possible in some instances to actually have a surgical procedure that will facilitate healing of the bone. Surgery is administered as a medium to prevent amputation. Antibiotics are initially administered in an IV format for a few weeks, and then the patient is given a pill to heal the patient for the rest of the recovery time.
Cleanliness is the key to the prevention of osteomyelitis. At best, ensure that you are washing wounds that are visible. Cover the wounds, and keep bandaged where possible.
Chronic osteomyelitis is best treated with an orthopaedic specialist, who can control the condition. Osteomyelitis, like all conditions, is better prevented than treated. It is a preventable condition, however there are special circumstances that can result in its development. Seeking appropriate medical care will take you on the road to recovery.