Osteomyelitis is the term used to describe an infection of the bone or bone marrow. Osteomyelitis is usually caused by bacterial infection but can also occur as the result of injury or another underlying condition. Osteomyelitis occurs suddenly (acute illness) as a result of infection or injury, for example, and when the conditions keeps recurring, it is referred to as chronic (long-term) osteomyelitis.
The symptoms of osteomyelitis are described below.
- Fever (temperature of 38˚C or above), chills and shivering
- Pain in the affected bone that can be intense
- Tenderness and swelling in the affected area
- The condition usually affects the long bones in the legs, but other bones such as those in the arms can also be affected
- General feeling of malaise
- Restricted movement of the affected area
- Swollen lymph nodes near affected area
- Irritable mood
- Loss of appetite
The majority of osteomyelitis cases are caused by bacterial infection, although the condition may also be caused by fungi. Fungal infection is rare among people with a healthy immune system and tends to only occur in those with suppressed immunity such as HIV patients or people taking immunosuppressive agents such as corticosteroids.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis is usually based on a physical examination, blood tests, imaging studies and sometimes biopsy. The condition is usually treated with antibiotics over a course of four to six weeks. In severe cases, surgery may also be required. Surgery generally involves removal of the damaged bone and drainage of accumulated pus.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc