My patient with low back pain was just diagnosed with a lumbar spinal epidural abscess. Should I order an MRI of the rest of the spine?

First, look closely for any signs or symptoms which may suggest cord involvement due to spinal epidural abscess (SEA) at other levels of the spine (in this case cervical or thoracic) which would necessitate an urgent MRI. Be particularly on the lookout for new pain (particularly radicular) or paresthesias involving the abdomen, chest or upper extremities (with or without weakness)1.

Otherwise, whether an MRI of the entire spine should be routinely obtained after a diagnosis of SEA in the absence of any suggestive signs or symptoms is less clear, in part related to lack of properly designed studies.1-4

Nevertheless, a retrospective study involving 233 patients with SEA may shed some light on the subject. Based on 22 cases of noncontiguous SEA (9.4% of total), the following independent risk factors were identified3:

  • Delay in presentation (≥1 week of symptoms)
  • Concomitant area of infection outside the spine and paraspinal region
  • ESR > 95 mm/h at presentation

Probability of non-contiguous SEA based on the number of risk factors was as follows:

  • 3 risk factors: 73%
  • 2 risk factors: 13%
  • 1 risk factor: 2%
  • Zero risk factor: 0%

Despite several shortcomings and the need to confirm its findings2,3, this study helps raise awareness of the potential for concurrent but asymptomatic SEA elsewhere in the spine whenever SEA is diagnosed.

 

References

  1. Bond A, Manian FA. Spinal epidural abscess: a review with special emphasis on earlier diagnosis. BioMed Res International 2016;Volume 2016, Article ID 1614328. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2016/1614328/
  2. Schoenfeld AJ, Hayward RA. Predicting modeling for epidural abscess: what we can, can’t, and should do about it. Spine J 2015;15:102-104. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S152994301401554X
  3. Ju KL, Kim SD, Melikian R, et al. Predicting patients with concurrent noncontiguous spinal epidural abscess lesions. Spine J 2015;15:95-101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24953159
  4. Pfister HW, vonRosen F, Yousry T. MRI detection of epidural spinal abscesses at noncontiguous sites. J Neurol 1996;243:315-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8965103
My patient with low back pain was just diagnosed with a lumbar spinal epidural abscess. Should I order an MRI of the rest of the spine?

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