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Spinal Subdural Abscess Following Laminectomy for Symptomatic Stenosis: A Report of 2 Cases and Review of the Literature

Diagnostic / therapeutic accidents, Rare disease, Educational Purpose (only if useful for a systematic review or synthesis)

Alexander D. Ramos, John D. Rolston, Grant E. Gauger, Paul S. Larson

USA Department of Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA

Am J Case Rep 2016; 17:476-483

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.897463

Available online:

Published: 2016-07-12

BACKGROUND: Spinal subdural abscesses, also known as empyemas, are rare infectious lesions, the exact incidence of which is unknown. Presentation is typically dramatic, with back pain, fever, motor, and sensory deficits. Rapid identification and surgical intervention with laminectomy, durotomy, and washout provides the best outcomes. While hematogenous spread of an extra-spinal infection is the most common cause of this condition, a significant number of cases result from iatrogenic mechanisms, including lumbar punctures, epidural injections, and surgery.
CASE REPORT: Here we present 2 cases: 1) an 87-year-old man with type 2 diabetes, schizophrenia, mild cognitive impairment, and symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis and 2) a 62-year-old man with a prior L3–4 spinal fusion with symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis. In both cases, patients underwent laminectomy for spinal stenosis and developed epidural abscess. Following successful drainage of the epidural abscess, they continued to be symptomatic, and repeat imaging revealed the presence of a subdural abscess that was subsequently evacuated. Case 1 had significant improvement with residual lower-extremity weakness, while Case 2 made a complete neurological recovery.
CONCLUSIONS: These cases illustrate patients at increased risk for developing this rare spinal infection, and demonstrate that rapid recognition and surgical treatment is key to cure and recovery. Review of the literature highlights pertinent risk factors and demonstrates nearly one-third of reported cases have an iatrogenic etiology. The cases presented here demonstrate that a subdural process should be suspected in any patient with intractable pain following treatment of an epidural abscess.

Keywords: Anti-Bacterial Agents - therapeutic use, Aged, 80 and over, Body Mass Index, Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 - complications, Drug Therapy, Combination, Epidural Abscess - therapy, Laminectomy - adverse effects, Rifampin - therapeutic use, Risk Factors, Schizophrenia - complications, Spinal Stenosis - surgery, Staphylococcal Infections - complications, Suction - methods, Vancomycin - therapeutic use