Clinical question: Can one predict whether nonoperative management of spinal epidural abscesses will fail?
Background: Even though spinal epidural abscesses have a low incidence and nonspecific presentation, a delay in treatment can lead to significant morbidity. Previously, operative management was the preferred treatment; however, improvements in imaging and timing of diagnosis have led to an increased interest in nonoperative management. Few studies have identified possible predictors of failure for nonoperative management, and no algorithm exists for weighing the different possible predictors with the outcome of nonoperative management failure.
Study design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: A Massachusetts hospital system with two tertiary academic medical centers and three regional community hospitals.
Synopsis: The study evaluated 1,053 patients admitted with a spinal epidural abscess during 1993-2016. Of these, 432 patients were managed nonoperatively, and 367 were included in the analysis. Failure of nonoperative management occurred in 99 patients (27%). These patients were compared with 266 patients with successful nonoperative management with more than 60 days of follow-up. Six independent factors were associated with failure of nonoperative management including motor deficit at presentation (odds ratio, 7.85), pathological or compression fractures (OR, 6.12), active malignancy (OR, 3.32), diabetes (OR, 2.92), sensory changes at presentation (3.48), and location of the abscess dorsal to the thecal sac (OR, 0.29). Subsequently, a clinical algorithm was created to predict the likelihood of failure of nonoperative management.
Because of its retrospective design, the study was unable to assess the efficacy of surgery versus nonoperative management.
Bottom line: Specific measures of general health, neurologic status at presentation, and anatomical data of a patient with a spinal epidural abscess have led to the development of a clinical algorithm to determine the risk of failure in nonoperative management of spinal epidural abscesses.
Citation: Shah AA et al. Nonoperative management of spinal epidural abscess: Development of a predictive algorithm for failure. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2018;100(7):546-55.
Dr. Tsien is a hospitalist in the division of hospital medicine in the department of medicine at Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, Ill.