Spinal epidural abscess

Marc Tompkins, Ian Panuncialman, Phillip Lucas, Mark Palumbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Background: Spinal epidural abscess is an uncommon disease with a relatively high rate of associated morbidity and mortality. The most important determinant of outcome is early diagnosis and initiation of appropriate treatment. Objectives: We aim to highlight the clinical manifestations, describe the early diagnostic evaluation, and outline the treatment principles for spinal epidural abscess in the adult. Discussion: Spinal epidural abscess should be suspected in the patient presenting with complaints of back pain or a neurologic deficit in conjunction with fever or an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Gadolinium-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging is the diagnostic modality of choice to confirm the presence and determine the location of the abscess. Emergent surgical decompression and debridement (with or without spinal stabilization) followed by long-term antimicrobial therapy remains the treatment of choice. In select cases, non-operative management can be cautiously considered when the risk of neurologic complications is determined to be low. Conclusion: Patients with a spinal epidural abscess often present first in the emergency department setting. It is imperative for the emergency physician to be familiar with the clinical features, diagnostic work-up, and basic management principles of spinal epidural abscess.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)384-390
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • early management
  • spinal epidural abscess


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