Spinal infections is a type of disease that comes about when viruses, bacterium or fungi attack the spinal tissue. The condition is considered rare, but serious when they do occur. They can occur on the vertebral bones of the spine (osteomyelitis) or in the intervertebral disc of the spine (discitis). Although the infections are mostly bacterial, viral or fungal infections can also occur, and they normally travel to the spine through the bloodstream.
Causes of Spinal Infections
Individuals who are most prone to developing spinal infections include intravenous drug users, elderly patients and people with a weakened or impaired immune system.
Potential causes of spinal infections include:
- History of organ transplant
- Post-surgical infections
- Poor nutrition
- Steroid use
- Compromised immune system
Symptoms of Spinal Infections
Spinal infections symptoms tend to have a slow onset, and it may take the patient about 3 days to 3 months for him or her to notice. This can lead to a delayed diagnosis. Early onset symptoms of spinal infections can include tenderness of the back or neck. Symptoms that follow this usually include:
- Neck stiffness
- Chills and fever
- Pain that worsens with movement and does not ease with rest or medication
- Redness or swelling at the site of infection
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night pain
- Bladder and bowel incontinence
- Numbness, weakness or tingling in the legs and arms
- Progressive development of severe back pain and limited mobility
Symptoms may vary from one patient to the next with some not experiencing any severe symptoms until later when the condition has already advanced.
Diagnosis of Spinal Infections
Spinal infections can be diagnosed through a combination of lab tests and imaging which include:
- X-ray: This is used to diagnose spinal infections in the early stages. It can reveal bone deterioration and/or loss of disc height.
- MRI: Known as Magnetic Resonance Imaging, this is used to obtain information about the health of the bone and the surrounding soft tissue.
- Lab tests: This includes drawing blood from the patient to examine the white blood cells count or markers for inflammation which are known as Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) and C-reactive Protein (CRP) test
- CT scans: To look at a cross-section of the spine or affected area by taking photos.
- Bone scans: Used to detect infections or any abscess present.
Treatment of Spinal Infections
Standard treatment options for spinal infections can include:
- Antibiotic therapy and bracing: Intravenous antibiotics will likely be used by your physician to treat spinal infections and they can be combined with bracing to support the spine as it heals.
- Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF): This procedure is used to remove the source of infection from your spine and also perform the spinal fusion. It involves entering the spine from the anterior side or front and the surgeon inserting a bone graft which permanently fuses the two vertebrae together for support.
- Kyphoplasty: Kyphoplasty or vertebral augmentation is a procedure that is performed when the vertebra is fractured from the infection. During the procedure, your physician will remove the infection and inject a medical grade cement into the collapsed vertebra.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service, from initial consultation through to final diagnosis and treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors, nurses, physio therapists are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you might have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.
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