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Osteomyelitis Causes and Treatment

Updated on November 14, 2009

Osteomyelitis is a serious but uncommon infection of a bone. These infections are more common in children, and the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone) and humerus (upper arm bone) are the most commonly affected, but any bone in the body may be involved. Any cut that penetrates through the flesh to the bone leaves the bone open to infection, but osteomyelitis often commences without any obvious cause and the infecting bacteria must therefore reach the bone through the blood stream. The infected bone becomes painful, tender and warm, and the tissue over the infected bone is swollen. The patient is feverish and feels ill. X-rays can show the bone damage caused by osteomyelitis, but often not until several days after the infection has started.

Treatment before this stage is desirable, and so testing the blood for the presence of bacteria, plus the appearance of the patient, are usually sufficient to allow the commencement of a potent antibiotic, which is often given as an injection. Once the infecting bacteria have been correctly identified, the antibiotic may be changed. Several weeks of antibiotic treatment, and strict bed rest during this time, are necessary. If pus is present in the bone, an operation to drain it is essential.

Complications of osteomyelitis include septicemia, permanent damage to the bone and nearby joints, bone death and collapse, persistent infection and damage to the growing area of a bone in a child. With modern antibiotics, the majority of osteomyelitis cases are controlled and cured soon after the diagnosis. Complications are more likely in remote areas with poor access to medical services, in disabled patients who cannot adequately communicate their problems, and in underdeveloped countries.

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