An epidural abscess is an infection that forms in the space between your skull bones and your brain lining (intracranial epidural abscess). Quite often, it forms in the space between the bones of your spine and the lining membrane of your spinal cord (spinal epidural abscess).
An epidural abscess results in a pocket of pus that builds up and causes swelling. It can press against your bones and the membranes that protect your spinal cord and your brain (meninges). This swelling and the underlying infection can affect sensations and physical movement and can cause other problems. An epidural abscess needs to be treated right away.
Typically, an epidural abscess is caused by a Staphylococcus aureus bacterial infection. It could also result from a fungus or another germ circulating in your body. Much of the time, healthcare providers can't find a particular cause of the infection.
If you suffer from persistent sinus or ear infections, or have had an injury to your head, you may be more likely to develop an epidural abscess inside your skull. You're more likely to develop an epidural abscess on your spine if you have an infection in the bones of your spine or in your blood, or have had a surgical procedure on your back.
The symptoms of an epidural abscess depend on the location of the abscess. An epidural abscess may cause these symptoms:
A healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and symptoms. Diagnostic tests and exams may include:
Typically, your healthcare provider will give you antibiotics to fight the infection that caused the abscess. A surgeon may need to drain the fluid from the abscess with a needle, to help relieve the pressure. Sometimes, your surgeon may remove it entirely. You will most likely require surgery to drain or remove the abscess if you have difficulty moving or are unable to move at all, or if you have sensation problems, such as numbness, somewhere in the body.
Without treatment, serious complications can occur, such as:
Once damage to your nervous system has occurred, it can be difficult to restore normal nervous system function. Untreated epidural abscess can be extremely dangerous and may result in death.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider: