Spinal Epidural Abscess

Spinal epidural abscess is a problem that occurs most commonly in the middle to lower spine that generally produces inflammation through the accumulation of pus and other infected materials in or around the spinal cord. Pus and other infected materials are made up of a cocktail of various substances including but not limited to destroyed tissue cells, cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF (the fluid that surrounds and fills the cavities in the brain and spine), live and dead microorganisms, and white blood cells that all combine to produce a collection of substance that causes pressure on the spinal cord. The formation of this pus often occurs because of infection of areas surrounding the spinal cord that can come about from back injuries or trauma, complications from various surgeries, the spread of bacteria through the bloodstream, and various other sources. The type of inflammation and infection that produces an epidural abscess most often occurs as a secondary effect of fungal or viral infection.

Although fever and headache are common, the major and more serious symptoms of the pressure that is applied on the spinal cord following the buildup of pus are neurological, including the loss of control and sensation in areas below and at the location of pressure. This most often includes loss of bladder/bowel control and loss of movement in the area below the abscess (known as paraplegia), as in these areas, the spinal cord is compressed and pressurized to the point where it can no longer properly and effectively control function.

Because the main precursor and causative factor of these symptoms is generally the buildup of pressure in the spinal cord, the large majority of surgeries are methods to relieve this pressure and regain proper blood transport and include the removal of certain parts of the spinal bone or drainage of the buildup of pus. Additionally, antibiotics are used in conjunction with these surgical operations to treat the infection which produces the substance initially.

Post­op patients can find complete recovery, but in cases where treatment is too late or not wholly effective, the effects of spinal cord compression can produce mild to severe paralysis or nerve loss, and comprehensive and extreme proliferation of this abscess may even lead to death.

Although the condition of spinal epidural abscess is rather rare, for patients who are afflicted, this condition can be life threatening and life changing, especially without proper or timely care.