A spinal epidural abscess (SEA) is a rare but severe infection requiring prompt recognition and management. The incidence of SEA has doubled in the past decade, owing to an aging population and to increased use of spinal instrumentation and vascular access. The optimal management of SEAs in patients 50 years of age and older remains a matter of considerable debate. In an older patient population with multiple comorbidities, whether intravenous antibiotics alone or in combination with surgery lead to superior outcomes remains unknown. The present study retrospectively analyzes cases of SEAs, in patients 50 years of age and older, treated at Duke University Medical Center over the past 15 years.
Eighty-two patients underwent treatment for a spinal epidural abscess between 1999 and 2013. There were 46 men and 36 women, whose overall mean age (± SD) was 65 ± 8.58 years (range 50–82 years). The mean duration of clinical follow-up was 41.38 ± 86.48 weeks. Thirty patients (37%) underwent surgery for removal of the abscess, whereas 52 (63%) were treated more conservatively, undergoing CT-guided aspiration or receiving antibiotics alone based on the results of blood cultures. The correlation between pretreatment variables and outcomes was evaluated in a multivariate regression analysis.
Back pain and severe motor deficits were the most common presenting symptoms. Compared with baseline neurological status, the majority of patients (68%) reported being neurologically “better” or “unchanged.” Twelve patients (15%) had a good outcome (7 [23%] treated operatively vs 5 [10%] treated nonoperatively, p = 0.03), while clinical status in 41 patients (50%) remained unchanged (10 [33%] treated operatively vs 31 [60%] treated nonoperatively, p = 0.01). Overall, 20 patients (25%) died (9 [30%] treated operatively vs 11 [21%] treated nonoperatively, p = 0.43). In a multivariate logistic regression model, an increasing baseline level of pain, the presence of paraplegia or quadriplegia on initial presentation, and a dorsally located SEA were independently associated with poor outcomes.
The results of the study suggest that in patients 50 years of age and older, early surgical decompression combined with intravenous antimicrobial therapy was not associated with superior clinical outcomes when compared with intravenous antimicrobial therapy alone.