Feet are prone to several types of infection— especially the feet of a diabetic patient. Superficial infections may garner the most attention because they are visible and it’s easy to see there’s a problem. Bone infection (osteomyelitis), on the other hand, is hidden. It can come on suddenly, or develop over the long term.
Most bone infections are caused by the staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. This is a familiar name, and one that’s becoming resistant to antibiotics. That’s why it’s important to nip a bone infection in the bud. If you suspect there’s something going on inside that sore foot, better call one of our clinics (DeSoto, Sunnyvale, Dallas) and make an appointment to see the doctor. This is a medical issue that will not go away by itself.
Foot infections in diabetic patients are unpredictable. Because nerves and blood supply to the lower extremities may be hampered, the feet don’t always get the nourishment they need. Diabetic patients tend to develop ulcers in the feet, which often lead to an infection in the soft tissue or bones. The other common source of infection is a puncture wound caused by stepping on a nail.
How do you know if a bone in your foot is infected? Here are some of the signs:
- irritated or prickly skin
- fluid draining from a sore on the foot
- fever or chills
- swelling in the foot
- stiffness or inability to stand on the foot
Diabetic patients are not the only ones at risk of a bone infection. Patients who have used drugs intravenously; those who’ve had kidney dialysis; people who’ve suffered trauma (such as a gunshot wound); those with a prosthesis or who have had surgery are vulnerable.
People who’ve been in a car crash or who suffer an open fracture are also prone to bone infections. And that time-honored childhood curse— stepping on a board with an exposed nail— accounts for a great many cases of bone infection in non-diabetic patients. (Mothers and fathers, don’t just dress the child’s wound and forget about it!)
How We Diagnose and Treat Bone Infection
If you have symptoms that lead us to suspect a bone infection, there are several ways to confirm the diagnosis. First we’ll conduct a physical exam, checking your foot for swelling, pain and redness. We may also order x-rays. If the x-rays don’t give enough information, we may ask for a bone scan. A bone scan shows cellular and metabolic activity, using a type of radioactive substance to highlight bone tissue. If a bone scan doesn’t give us enough information, we may need to take an MRI.
We often order blood tests to confirm the type of organism (such as staph) that is causing the infection. This allows us to prescribe medication to fight the specific cause. Other tests for bacteria include urine analysis, fecal samples and throat swabs.
Once we have a definitive diagnosis, we can prescribe an antibiotic. If the infection is advanced, we may need to inject the antibiotic into the veins. You may need to take the antibiotic for six or eight weeks to make sure the infection is completely eliminated. Surgery is another treatment option for an infection that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. The surgeon removes the infected bone and dead tissue, and drains any pockets of fluid (pus) that have developed.
You can avoid bone infections by checking your feet every night for sores and ulcers, and reporting these to the doctor as soon as possible. We’ve made great progress in helping diabetic patients avoid chronic infections and amputations, but your first line of defense is self-vigilance.
If you have sore feet or you suspect an infection, don’t wait to see if it clears up on its own. Call one of our clinics in Sunnyvale, Dallas and DeSoto and make an appointment to see the doctor.