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Faris Shweikeh, Kashif Saeed, Laura Bukavina, Stephanie Zyck, Doniel Drazin, and Michael P. Steinmetz

Object

Over the past decade, the incidence of bacterial spinal epidural abscess (SEA) has been increasing. In recent years, studies on this condition have been rampant in the literature. The authors present an 11-year institutional experience with SEA patients. Additionally, through an analysis of the contemporary literature, they provide an update on the challenging and controversial nature of this increasingly encountered condition.

Methods

An electronic medical record database was used to retrospectively analyze patients admitted with SEA from January 2001 through February 2012. Presenting symptoms, concurrent conditions, microorganisms, diagnostic modalities, treatments, and outcomes were examined. For the literature search, PubMed was used as the search engine. Studies published from January 1, 2000, through December 31, 2013, were critically reviewed. Data from articles on methodology, demographics, treatments, and outcomes were recorded.

Results

A total of 106 patients with bacterial SEA were identified. The mean ± SD age of patients was 63.3 ± 13.7 years, and 65.1% of patients were male. Common presenting signs and symptoms were back pain (47.1%) and focal neurological deficits (47.1%). Over 75% of SEAs were in the thoracolumbar spine, and over 50% were ventral. Approximately 34% had an infectious origin. Concurrent conditions included diabetes mellitus (35.8%), vascular conditions (31.3%), and renal insufficiency/dialysis (30.2%). The most commonly isolated organism was Staphylococcus aureus (70.7%), followed by Streptococcus spp. (6.6%). Surgery along with antibiotics was the treatment for 63 (59.4%) patients. Surgery involved spinal fusion for 19 (30.2%), discectomy for 14 (22.2%), and corpectomy for 9 (14.3%). Outcomes were reported objectively; at a mean ± SD follow-up time of 8.4 ± 26 weeks (range 0–192 weeks), outcome was good for 60.7% of patients and poor for 39.3%. The literature search yielded 40 articles, and the authors discuss the result of these studies.

Conclusions

Bacterial SEA is an ominous condition that calls for early recognition. Neurological status at the time of presentation is a key factor in decision making and patient outcome. In recent years, surgical treatment has been advocated for patients with neurological deficits and failed response to medical therapy. Surgery should be performed immediately and before 36–72 hours from onset of neurological sequelae. However, the decision between medical or surgical intervention entails individual patient considerations including age, concurrent conditions, and objective findings. An evidence-based algorithm for diagnosis and treatment is suggested.