Spinal Cord Abscess

Spinal cord abscess is a condition in which swelling and irritation and the collection of infected material around the spinal cord is manifested.

Causes of Spinal Cord Abscess

A spinal cord abscess is the result of an infection within the spine. An abscess of the spinal cord in itself is very rare. A spinal abscess generally surfaces as an epidural abscess.

Pus is formed as the assimilation of:

  • Destroyed tissue cells
  • White blood cells
  • Fluid
  • Live and dead bacteria and other microorganisms

The pus is basically covered by a layer or membrane that is generated around the corners. The pus accumulation results in pressure on the spinal cord. The infection may create swelling and inflammation which also compresses the spinal cord.

The infection is generally witnessed because of bacteria. It is sometimes also caused by a staphylococcus infection that begins from the spine. In some parts of the world it can also be caused by tuberculosis. However, it is not as general these days as it was in the past. In rare cases, the infection may be caused by fungus or virus.

The following catapults the risk of a spinal cord abscess:

  • Back trauma or wounds, it may be minor injuries as well
  • Boils on the skin, specifically on the scalp or back
  • Back surgery or lumbar puncture complications
  • If any infection has reached via blood flow from one part to the other parts of the body (bacteremia)

The infection generally starts in the bone (osteomyelitis). The bone infection can also lead to epidural abscess. This abscess grows larger and compresses the spinal cord.

The disorder is quite rare but can prove to be fatal.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Abscess

  • Loss of control over bowel and bladder
  • Loss of movement of a part of the body
  • Nervous system (neurologic) signs that all of a sudden get worse
  • Fever
  • Loss of feeling in a specific, restricted area (localized)
  • Chills
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Exams Loss of feeling of a part of the body
  • Severe back pain
  • Low backache, specifically mild but gradually gets worse
    • Pain generally shifts to the hip, leg, or spread to feet
    • Pain may travel to the shoulder, arm, or even hand
  • Male impotence

Tests of Spinal Cord Abscess

A physical exam often displays tenderness over the spine. A test may manifest signs of:

  • Spinal cord compression
  • Paralysis of the lower body (paraplegia) or it may lead to the paralysis of the entire upper part of the body, arms, and legs (quadriplegia)

The quantity of nerve loss depends on where the lesion is manifested on the spine and to what extent it is compressing the spinal cord.

The tests that may be conducted can be:

  • Flushing out of abscess and culture test of abscess element
  • CT scan
  • Test of cerebrospinal fluid
  • MRI

Treatment of Spinal Cord Abscess

The objectives of treatment are to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord and treat the infection.

  • Medicines are recommended to alleviate the infection. It may be a combination of antibiotics.
  • Urgent surgery to relieve the pressure can also be often advised. The surgery is termed as laminectomy. It encompasses flushing out the abscess. Sometimes it is not possible to entirely drain the abscess.
  • Corticosteroids may often be prescribed to simmer down the swelling and pressure on the spinal cord.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person response post treatment, may vary. Some individuals recover completely.

An untreated spinal cord abscess can result in spinal cord compression. It can lead to   permanent, severe paralysis and loss of nerves. It may be life-threatening often under these circumstances.

If the spinal cord abscess is not flushed out completely, it may recur or cause scarring in the spinal cord.

Possible Complications

The abscess can harm the spinal cord because of direct pressure, or it can hinder the blood supply to the spinal cord.

Following complications may be manifested:

  • Loss of bladder/bowel control
  • Long-term (chronic) back pain
  • Weakness, paralysis
  • Loss of sensation
  • Male impotence

Prevention Observed Against Spinal Cord Abscess

A complete treatment of tuberculosis, boils, and other infections cut down the risk of spinal cord abscess.

People suffering with endocarditic or congenital heart diseases may require taking preventive antibiotics prior to having dental or other oral treatments conducted.