What is Osteomyelitis?
Osteomyelitis was once considered to be an incurable bone infection, and it was incurable prior to advancements in healing technology. With modern medical options, it is now a treatable disease.
Osteomyelitis refers to an infection in a bone, which is typically caused by infections in the blood or nearby tissues. A urinary tract infection or pneumonia can attack a weak bone. Sometimes, this infection can originate in the bone, especially after an injury where the bone might be exposed to germs. This can happen in puncture wounds, animal bites, or through broken bones that pierce the skin.
For children, the long leg bones and upper arm are most likely to be affected. Children are vulnerable in their growth plates, which are the softer bone areas. The spine and vertebrae are the areas that are most likely to be affected in adults. People with circulation problems may get this bone disease, including those with sickle cell disease or peripheral arterial disease, as well as diabetes. Diabetic patients may have foot ulcers and osteomyelitis in the feet.
People who have had recent surgery or injuries may also be at risk due to the exposure of their internal body, even briefly, to the external world. Intravenous treatments can also lead to this bone infection, as they carry the possibility of introducing infections into the body. This would impact those on dialysis, people with “central lines” (long-term IV tubing), and people who use catheters. When the immune system is severely impaired, there can be a risk of osteomyelitis, including organ transplant patients, those on chemotherapy, and people on corticosteroids or TNF inhibitors. Intravenous drug users might also develop this condition.
Symptoms of Osteomyelitis
Symptoms of osteomyelitis include pain, swelling, and redness that is located in the area of infection, irritability and lethargy, and fever and chills. Complications of this condition include bone death (osteonecrosis), impaired growth, septic arthritis, and squamous cell cancer (skin cancer).1 In most cases, Staphylococcus aureus, a staph bacteria, is the cause of osteomyelitis. In children, the disorder is acute, and it “comes on quickly, is easier to treat, and overall turns out better”. In adults, this disorder can be acute or chronic. Osteomyelitis affects “only two out of every 10,000 people”.2
X-rays, CT scans, and MRI can all be used to diagnose osteomyelitis. There is no specific blood test for this disorder, but elevated white blood cells may indicate the presence of an infection. The best way to diagnose this condition is via bone biopsy, which can reveal the germ that had caused the infection.
Standard treatments include removing dead parts of the bone and strong antibiotics. Because of these treatments, this bone infection is no longer incurable. The antibiotics are typically given, via an IV, for about 6 weeks. The surgical process can include draining the infection, removing diseased tissue and bone, restoring blood flow, removing foreign objects, if there are any present, and amputation of the affected area, which is only performed as a last resort. Some patients may need to be put in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to “help get more oxygen to the bone and promote healing”.3
Prevention of osteomyelitis is best done by keeping things sanitized, both in a professional medical environment and through hygiene and cleanliness techniques used at home. If there is a wound, even one that is seemingly minor, it should be washed completely, for example. Patients should take precautions when visiting hospitals, as such places are often filled with other patients who have a huge variety of infections and illnesses. Patients should avoid touching their faces, wash their hands frequently, and keep any injuries cleaned and covered unless instructed otherwise to prevent as much internal contact with foreign elements as possible. Doctors also need to know if a patient has chronic osteomyelitis. The sooner it is treated, the better. Early detection can help prevent acute osteomyelitis from becoming chronic.4
Supplementary Herbal Options
There are some forms of CAM, or complementary and alternative medicine, options for treatment that could help a patient who suffers from osteomyelitis recover. Primarily, the condition should be treated through the use of prescription antibiotics. Additionally, alternative therapies could work along with the conventional treatment to strengthen the patient’s immune system. These supplementary treatment options should only be pursued with the approval of the patient’s primary care physician.
There are several nutritional supplements that could help, though they also might interact with other medications. Vitamins C, E, A, and selenium might be taken as long as the patient’s doctor finds that they do not interact negatively with other forms of medications and supplements. Because antibiotics are what treat osteomyelitis, patients might want to try taking probiotics. Antibiotics upset the balance of bacteria in the intestines, and probiotics increase the number of good bacteria in the intestinal tract. For their antibacterial properties, patients could take garlic, goldenseal, and barberry while echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus strengthen the immune system. One alternative treatment that should be completely avoided is massage therapy, which could inadvertently contribute to the spread of infection.5
Strong antibiotics are part of the standard treatment of osteomyelitis. Learn more about the dangers of antibiotic overuse.