What is Osteomyelitis? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:09 An Infection of the…
  • 0:40 What Is Osteomyelitis…
  • 2:12 Clinical Signs and Symptoms
  • 4:02 Diagnosis and Treatment
  • 5:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss something known as osteomyelitis. We'll talk about why it may occur, what a sequestrum and involucrum have to do with it, and how it can be diagnosed and treated.

An Infection of the Strongest Parts of Your Body

When I say someone is sick, most people jump to the conclusion they're coughing and sneezing. That's the stereotypical example of someone who is sick. Furthermore, most of us don't have the thought that someone's bone is involved in the disease. Again, it's just the nature of things. Most of us get colds and the flu more often than we get some kind of bone disease. But, even though bones are the strongest part of your body, under the right circumstances, they are just as easily susceptible to infection and disease as your throat and lungs.

What is Osteomyelitis and Why Does it Occur?

More technically, an infection of the bone is actually known as osteomyelitis. There are several ways by which you can get an infection of your bone. For instance, you may be horsing around with a friend when something really sharp punctures deep into your leg. This can cause an infection to set in in the surrounding tissue that will spread to the bone.

Another way by which you can get infected is during surgery. Let's say you were in a bad accident and broke a leg. You had to have a plate put in to get you walking again. Well, during the process of that plate being put in, an infection may be introduced directly into the bone. This is very serious and dangerous and will result in the surgery catastrophically failing unless taken care of right away.

Furthermore, another example of osteomyelitis occurring isn't as common, but is possible. You may have some severe form of pneumonia or another infection in your body that isn't a deep puncture wound. If the infectious agents get into your bloodstream and spreads around your body, they may end up spreading to the bone as well, resulting in osteomyelitis.

In any case, the most common cause of osteomyelitis is a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that is a common cause of everything from arthritis to skin infections, hospital-acquired infections and beyond. This bacterium is like the who's who of, not an Oscar after-party, but dangerous bacteria that cause death and destruction.

Clinical Signs and Symptoms

The problem with osteomyelitis is that if it's not taken care of right away, it can begin to destroy your bone. The infection of the bone causes inflammatory cells, called white blood cells, to rush into the area and fight off the infection. In this all-out war between the bacteria and your immune system, this inflammatory process begins to destroy not only the bacteria but the surrounding bone as well.

Imagine how in World War II, during tank battles, the tanks were trying to kill each other but their shells landed in the surrounding fields as well, destroying everything in their path. The infectious agents, combined with the inflammatory process, do the same thing to your valuable bone as well.

This entire process will cause you:

  • Pain in the area of infection
  • Swelling and redness in the same area
  • Fever as a result of the infectious process affecting the entire body
  • Osteonecrosis, or the death and destruction of bone that I described before
  • The formation of a sequestrum, or a small piece of dead bone separated from healthy bone and
  • Involucrum, or new bone formation surrounding a sequestrum as a result of osteomyelitis

The latter two signs can only be seen in a radiograph during surgery or an autopsy.

The way I remember which is which is by thinking about the fact that sequestrum is sequestered inside the involucrum, which involutes the sequestrum inside of it.

In serious and complicated cases, fractures, draining tracts that pop disgusting yellow pus out of your bone into the outer world, and stunted growth in children may occur as well. Oh, and I should mention that in really serious cases, death may occur as a result of the infection as well. Just thought I'd mention that.

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