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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)


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Your Question

I am trying to find more information about osteomyelitis. Can you provide me with the information that I need?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis is the medical term for an infection in a bone.[1] The infection that causes osteomyelitis often is in another part of the body and spreads to the bone via the blood. Affected bone may have been predisposed to infection because of recent trauma. In children, the long bones are usually affected. In adults, the vertebrae and the pelvis are most commonly affected. Bone infection can be caused by bacteria or by fungus.[2] Osteomyelitis is divided into several types depending on where an infection begins and where it occurs. Types of osteomyelitis include: infections that travel through the bloodstream, infections that occur after injury or surgery, infections in people with poor circulation, and infection in the bones of the spine.[1]
Last updated: 7/28/2011

What causes osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis occurs when an infection develops in a bone or spreads to a bone from another area of the body. It's caused by bacteria or fungi.[1]  Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause.[3] The infected bone may deteriorate and form a pocket (abscess) of pus in response to the infection. This may block blood supply to the bone. In cases of chronic osteomyelitis that last for years, the loss of blood supply may lead to death of the bone.[1]

The bones are normally resistant to infection. In order for osteomyelitis to occur, a situation that makes the bones vulnerable must be present. For instance, trauma to the bone, such as a fracture, or to the soft tissue around the bone, such as a puncture wound, gives infections a route to enter the bone or nearby tissue. Individuals may also be vulnerable to infection if they have a condition that weakens their body's ability to fight an infection, such as HIV, diabetes or sickle cell anemia.[1]

Last updated: 7/23/2011

What are the signs and symptoms of osteomyelitis?

Signs and symptoms of osteomyelitis depend on whether the condition is acute, lasting several months or less, or chronic, lasting several months to years.[1]

Signs and symptoms of acute osteomyelitis include:[1]

  • Fever that may be abrupt
  • Irritability or lethargy in young children
  • Pain in the area of the infection
  • Swelling, warmth and redness over the area of the infection

Signs and symptoms of chronic osteomyelitis include:[1]

  • Warmth, swelling and redness over the area of the infection
  • Pain or tenderness in the affected area
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Drainage from an open wound near the area of the infection
  • Fever, sometimes

Sometimes osteomyelitis causes no signs and symptoms or has signs and symptoms that are difficult to distinguish from other problems. For instance, osteomyelitis of the hip, spine or pelvis may have few signs and symptoms. Osteomyelitis that occurs after a broken bone (fracture) or deep wound may cause pain and swelling that you may attribute to your injury, not an infection.[1]

Last updated: 7/23/2011

How might osteomyelitis be treated?

Osteomyelitis can be difficult to treat.[3] The objective of treatment is to eliminate the infection and prevent it from getting worse. Antibiotics may be given to destroy the bacteria that are causing the infection.[2]

For infections that do not go away, surgery may be needed to remove dead bone tissue.[2] Surgical procedures may involve drainage of the infected area, removal of diseased bone and tissue, restoration of blood flow, or removal of foreign material.[4]

Last updated: 10/17/2013

What is the prognosis for individuals with osteomyelitis?

When treatment is received, the outcome for acute osteomyelitis is usually good. The outlook is worse for chronic osteomyelitis, even with surgery. Amputation may be needed, especially in diabetics or other patients with poor blood circulation. The outlook is guarded in those who have an infection of a prosthesis.[2]
Last updated: 7/23/2011

Can you point me to additional online resources for osteomyelitis? 

An article from Medscape Reference provides information on osteomyelitis at the following link. You may need to register to view the article, but registration is free.

PubMed lists journal articles that discuss osteomyelitis. Click on the link to go to PubMed and review citations to these articles.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) is a federation of more than 130 nonprofit voluntary health organizations serving people with rare disorders. Click on the link to view information on this topic.

Last updated: 10/17/2013

Related Diseases
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.