Spinal epidural abscess: a diagnostic challenge

Br J Neurosurg. 2003 Apr;17(2):160-3. doi: 10.1080/0268869031000108918.


The objective of the study was to highlight the diagnostic challenge of this elusive rare disease. A retrospective study of non-tuberculous spinal epidural abscesses (SEA) was carried out in Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, and Morriston Hospital, Swansea, from 1990 to 2000. Thirty-nine patients, consisting of 20 females and 19 males, with an age range from 20 to 85 years (mean: 61.1) were identified. Thirty-eight had localized back/neck pain. Eighteen were apyrexial. Twenty-nine demonstrated neurological deficit. All patients had raised inflammatory markers and gadolinium-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was diagnostic in 34. The most commonly identified organism was Staphylococcus aureus. All underwent surgical decompression, of which 13 required stabilization. Three died, seven lacked sphincter control and nine had motor deficit at the end of 1 year. It was concluded that fever is not mandatory for the diagnosis of SEA. Patients with localized back/neck pain and raised inflammatory markers need urgent MRI.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Epidural Abscess / diagnosis*
  • Epidural Abscess / microbiology
  • Epidural Abscess / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Staphylococcal Infections / diagnosis
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Treatment Outcome