Spinal epidural abscesses present infrequently in surgical practice resulting in neurological morbidity, and mortality. A rare find is the presence of an abscess involving the entire cervical, thoracic and lumbosacral regions of the spine, with limited reported cases in literature. When this is encountered urgent neurosurgical intervention is required to improve patient prognosis.
Case Description: A 58-year-old, poorly controlled type II diabetic male, presented with a 3-week history of lower back pain and progressive limitation in ambulation. Further deterioration was observed in-hospital, with a sudden decline in power of the lower limbs from a Medical Research Council (MRC) grade 5 to 2. This prompted urgent magnetic resonance imaging of the whole spine, which depicted an epidural abscess extending from the cervical vertebrae - C3, to the sacrum - S1, with resulting compression of the spinal cord. An emergency multi-level laminectomy was performed with drainage of the epidural space. There was resolution of his sensory deficits and objective improvement in power of the lower limbs post-operation. Culture reports showed the culprit organism to be Escherichia coli.
Conclusion: Severe back pain in the diabetic patient requires careful assessment and monitoring. Emergency surgical decompression within 72 hours of neurological symptoms improves prognostic outcomes in patients with spinal epidural abscesses. We contend that performing a multi-level laminectomy procedure is the best option for an extensive posterior spinal epidural abscesses without bony involvement. Other methods such as image-guided percutaneous drainage, catheter procedures and intermediate level fenestration procedures, while less invasive, may be more likely to fail.