Osteomyelitis is the proper medical term for an infection of the bone. Such infections may be transmitted by direct exposure to bacteria after an injury, or via the bloodstream or surrounding tissues if there is a pre-existing infection elsewhere. In cases of vertebral osteomyelitis, bacteria are generally spread to the region by veins located in the lower spine.

As with any infection, osteomyelitis may cause the following symptoms:

  • Swelling, redness and or/warmth around the infected area
  • Fever or chills
  • Lethargy, especially in young children
  • Pain localized to the area of the infection

Certain groups of people may be more susceptible to osteomyelitis than others. At-risk groups include intravenous drug users, the elderly and individuals whose immune systems may be otherwise compromised (by things like malnutrition, AIDS, cancer, or long-term steroid use).

Osteomyelitis can be difficult to diagnose. Typically, doctors will use blood tests and radiological imaging (x-rays, MRIs, bone scans, etc.) to do an initial investigation. The only sure way to determine if a bone has been infected, however, is to perform a bone biopsy. Once the biopsy confirms the existence of osteomyelitis and identifies the type of bacteria responsible, doctors can prescribe appropriate antibiotic medications (usually first in IV form, then as a pill) to kill off the infection.

If antibiotics are not successful in wiping out a particularly widespread or resistant infection, the case may require surgery to remove infected tissue and bone altogether. While this type of surgery may seem extreme, it actually may stop the infection before it can spread so much that a full amputation is the only means of curing it. If the osteomyelitis occurs in the vertebrae, it is especially important to address the issue as early as possible. Spinal fusion can be performed to destroy bacteria and repair damage from the infection, but cases that advance beyond a certain point can be fatal (especially if the infection is caused by staphylococcus aureus).

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and believe you may have ostemyelitis, our Frisco, TX clinic can help make a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.