Navigate Up

Women's Center - A-Z Index

#
Y

Print This Page

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection caused by bacteria or other germs.

Causes

Bone infection is most often caused by bacteria. But it can also be caused by fungi or other germs. When a person has osteomyelitis:

  • Bacteria may spread to a bone from infected skin, muscles, or tendons next to the bone. This may occur under a skin sore.
  • The infection can start in another part of the body and spread to the bone through the blood.
  • The infection can also start after bone surgery. This is more likely if the surgery is done after an injury or if metal rods or plates are placed in the bone.

In children, the long bones of the arms or legs are most often involved. In adults, the feet, spine bones (vertebrae), and hips (pelvis) are most commonly affected.

Risk factors are:

People who have had their spleen removed are also at high risk of osteomyelitis.

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

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

Tests may include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to get rid of the infection and reduce damage to the bone and surrounding tissues.

Antibiotics are given to destroy the bacteria causing the infection:

  • You may receive more than one antibiotic at a time.
  • Antibiotics are taken for at least 4 to 6 weeks, often at home through an IV (intravenously, meaning through a vein).

Surgery may be needed to remove dead bone tissue if you have an infection that does not go away:

  • If there are metal plates near the infection, they may need to be removed.
  • The open space left by the removed bone tissue may be filled with bone graft or packing material. This promotes the growth of new bone tissue.

Infection that occurs after joint replacement may need surgery to remove the replaced joint and infected tissue around the area. A new prosthesis may be implanted in the same operation. More often, doctors wait until the infection has gone away.

If you have diabetes, it will need to be well controlled. If there are problems with blood supply to the infected area, such as the foot, surgery to improve blood flow may be needed to get rid of the infection.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With treatment, the outcome for acute osteomyelitis is usually good.

Outlook is worse for those with long-term (chronic) osteomyelitis. Symptoms may come and go for years, even with surgery. Amputation may be needed, especially in persons with diabetes or poor blood circulation.

Outlook for persons with an infection of the prosthesis depends, in part, on:

  • The patient's health
  • The type of infection
  • Whether the infected prosthesis can be safely removed

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You develop symptoms of osteomyelitis
  • You have osteomyelitis and the symptoms continue despite treatment

References

Matteson EL, Osmon DR. Infections of bursae, joints, and bones. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 280.

Dabov GD. Osteomyelitis. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell’s Operative Orthopaedics. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 21.

Updated: 5/19/2013

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com