An epidural abscess is a collection of pus (infected material) between the outer covering of the brain and spinal cord and the bones of the skull or spine. The abscess causes swelling in the area.
Abscess - epidural; Spinal abscess
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Epidural abscess is a rare disorder caused by infection in the area between the bones of the skull or spine, and the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). This infection is called an intracranial epidural abscess if it is inside the skull area, or a spinal epidural abscess if it is found in the spine area. Most are located in the spine.
The infection is usually caused by bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus is most common), but may be caused by fungus. It can be due to other infections in the body, or germs that spread through the blood. However, in some patients, no other source of infection is found.
In the case of an intracranial epidural abscess (within the skull), risk factors include:
The goal of treatment is to cure the infection and reduce the risk of permanent damage. Treatment usually includes antibiotics and surgery. In rare cases, antibiotics alone are used.
Antibiotics are usually given through a vein (IV) for at least 4 - 6 weeks. However, some people may need to take them for a longer time, depending on the type of bacteria and severity of the disease.
Surgery is usually needed to drain or remove the abscess. In addition, surgery is often needed to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or brain, to prevent further loss of function.
Early diagnosis and treatment greatly improve the chance of a good outcome. Once weakness, paralysis, or sensation changes occur, the chances of recovering lost function are reduced. Permanent nervous system damage or death may occur.
Treatment of certain infections, such as ear infections, sinusitis, and bloodstream infections, may decrease the risk of an epidural abscess. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent complications.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.