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Alternative Names Return to topAbscess - spinal cord
Definition Return to top
Spinal cord abscess is swelling and irritation (inflammation) and the collection of infected material (pus) around the spinal cord.
Causes Return to top
A spinal cord abscess is caused by an infection inside the spine. An abscess of the spinal cord itself is very rare. A spinal abscess usually occurs as an epidural abscess.
Pus forms as a collection of:
The pus is commonly covered by a lining or membrane that forms around the edges. The pus collection causes pressure on the spinal cord. The infection may cause inflammation and swelling, which also presses on (compresses) the spinal cord.
The infection is usually due to bacteria. Often it is caused by a staphylococcus infection that spreads through the spine. It may be caused by tuberculosis in some areas of the world, but it is not as common today as it was in the past. In rare cases, the infection may be due to a fungus or virus.
The following increase your risk of a spinal cord abscess:
The infection often begins in the bone (osteomyelitis). The bone infection may cause an epidural abscess to form. This abscess gets larger and presses on the spinal cord.
The disorder is rare, but may be life-threatening.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical exam often shows tenderness over the spine. An exam may show signs of:
The amount of nerve loss depends on where the lesion is located on the spine and how much it is compressing the spinal cord.
Tests that may be done:
Treatment Return to top
The goals of treatment are to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and cure the infection.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
How well a person does after treatment may vary. Some people recover completely.
An untreated spinal cord abscess can lead to spinal cord compression. It can cause permanent, severe paralysis and nerve loss. It may be life-threatening.
If the abscess is not drained completely, it may return or cause scarring in the spinal cord.
Possible Complications Return to top
The abscess can either injure the spinal cord from direct pressure, or it can cut off the blood supply to the spinal cord.
Complications may include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of spinal cord abscess.
Prevention Return to top
Thorough treatment of boils, tuberculosis, and other infections decreases the risk.
People with endocarditis or congenital heart disorders may need to take preventive antibiotics before having dental or other mouth procedures.
References Return to top
Nath A. Brain abscess and parameningeal infections. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 438.Update Date: 9/28/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Jatin M. Vyas, PhD, MD, Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.