Once considered incurable, osteomyelitis can be treated successfully today. Doctors' diagnostic methods include blood tests, bone biopsies, X-rays and bone scans. The bone may be immobilized with a splint or cast. The infection itself is first treated with antibiotics. Because most cases of osteomyelitis come from antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria, the condition can be difficult to treat. Sometimes a four- to six-week course of IV antibiotics is necessary.
If the source of the bone infection is an open wound, your doctor may also need to drain the wound or abscess. If allowed to remain unchecked, an abscess can cut off blood supply to the bone, which can lead to bone death.
More severe cases of osteomyelitis require more extreme treatment. They can require surgery to scrape the infection from the bone or remove any dead parts of the bone. Your doctor may recommend a skin graft to remove infected skin and replace it with healthy skin from another part of the body. Bone grafts are another option. In a worst-case scenario, doctors may need to amputate the affected limb.
Patients should be prepared for follow-up appointments with their doctor, who might order more lab work and imaging scans to check their progress.
If your immune system is compromised, a bone infection can recur. It's important to take every measure to prevent osteomyelitis in the first place. There are several precautions you can take:
- Quit smoking, which increases blood circulation.
- Keep up to date on immunizations, such as flu shots.
- Get regular exercise and follow a healthy diet (under your doctor's supervision).
- Avoid alcohol or drink only in moderation.
- Follow your doctor's instructions to keep diabetes under control.
- Don't use intravenous drugs.
If you suffer an injury that breaks the skin, take great care to treat it properly. Clean it thoroughly, cover it with a clean bandage, and if it gets infected or doesn't heal quickly, see your doctor immediately.
Although bone infections are uncommon, they happen. If you're at risk, make sure you take all necessary precautions and get medical attention if you experience symptoms of osteomyelitis to avoid greater injury.