What’s going on with your bones?
You probably are aware that your body can get infections, but did you know that they can occur at specific areas with in your body? One of these areas is your bones. You might not think this can happen, but it can. What causes it? How is it treated? Can it be prevented?
Osteomyelitis is the medical term for when you have an infection of your bones. This infection is usually caused by staphylococcus bacteria, which is normally found on your skin or in your nose. The problem is when bacteria gets inside your bones. This can happen in a variety of ways. One is the bacteria is present inside your bloodstream because it’s present somewhere else inside your body and travels to a weakened spot in one of your bones. Another way the bacteria can enter your body is through a deep puncture wound or if you break a bone severely enough that it breaks through your skin. Your bones can also become infected if you have surgery to replace a joint or fix a fracture. Symptoms of osteomyelitis include swelling, warmth, redness and pain to the affected area. Some people also have a fever and feel fatigued. Other people don’t have any symptoms at all.
Besides having surgery on your bones or a deep puncture wound, there are certain things that can increase your risk of developing osteomyelitis. Circulation disorders, such as sickle cell disease, peripheral artery disease and poorly controlled diabetes, can damage or block your blood vessels, which makes it hard for your body to get your white blood cells (immune system cells) to the area to fight off the infection. Another risk is having a compromised immune system because your body doesn’t function the way a healthy person’s does. Certain types of intravenous lines or catheters, like dialysis machine tubing and urinary catheters, can place you at a higher risk of developing osteomyelitis. There are several complications that can arise. Septic arthritis is when the infection spread from your bone to a nearby joint. If the infection causes an open sore on your skin, the surrounding tissue is more likely to get squamous cell cancer. If the infection interrupts your blood circulation to the bone, it can cause the bone tissue to die. For children, if they develop osteomyelitis in their joints or growth plates (softer area of bone at the ends of the long bones in their arms and legs), their growth maybe impaired.
The treatment for osteomyelitis depends on the severity of the infection. If there is a collection of fluid or pus in the area, your doctor will need to drain it. Most often, your doctor will need to removed the infected/dead portion of the bone. This process is called debridement and involves the infected portion of the bone, a small portion of healthy bone around the infected portion and any surrounding tissue that is infected. In order to fill in the space, your doctor may place a temporary filler in the area until you’re well enough to have a bone/tissue graft. Typically, they wait to place the graft until after you’ve been treated with antibiotics via an intravenous (IV) catheter for six weeks to make sure the infection is gone. Once the graft is placed, it helps to repair damaged blood vessels and helps to form new bone. If the infection is caused by an object that was placed from a previous surgery (ex. plates or screws), then those would be removed along with the infected/dead bone. Sometimes, the only way to prevent the infection from spreading further is to amputate the affected limb. It’s important to note that if you’re a smoker, it can make it take longer for your body to heal. If you’re a diabetic, it’s important to maintain good control over your blood sugar for the same reason.
The key way to prevent osteomyelitis is reduce your overall risk of infection, especially if you have factors that increase your risk level. You should take the necessary precautions to avoid getting cuts, scrapes, scratches and bites. Basically, it comes down to doing your best to avoid anything that would give bacteria easy access to your body. If you do have an injury, be sure to clean the area immediately. The best is soap and running water, but anything that will help to flush possible bacteria out of the area will work. Cover any open sores with bandages and keep the area clean and dry to prevent bacteria from entering your body through it. Monitor any open sores for any signs of infection, like redness, swelling, warmth and drainage, especially if it smells bad or looks like pus.
Osteomyelitis is a serious condition that requires prompt treatment. By taking the action when you need to you can minimize the damage that it causes. If you have any questions or concerns about osteomyelitis, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit Cleveland Clinic’s Osteomyelitis page at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9495-osteomyelitis