How to Tell if You Have a Spinal Infection

Spinal infection is a serious condition that occurs when bacteria, fungi, or viruses invade the spinal tissue. Fortunately, spinal infections are a rare condition. That said, it is important to understand how serious it can be because treatment is critical.

The pathogens can impact any area of the spine, including the vertebrae, spinal discs, meninges, spinal canal, or the spinal cord. Infections can grow slowly, so some patients do not even know they have a spinal infection. 

This article will cover important information you need to know about spinal infections to better understand diagnosis, treatment, and why it is so important to be treated as soon as possible. 

How Do You Test For a Spinal Infection?

Doctors use both imaging and lab work to diagnose a spinal infection. The doctor may order an x-ray to look for spinal discs and bone deterioration abnormalities. To look further, they may order an MRI to view both soft tissue and the bones of the spine. 

Typical lab work for spinal infections include a complete blood count to look for an increase in white blood cells. Your doctor may order blood cultures to determine if the pathogen is causing the spinal infection.

However, blood cultures may not always indicate the cause of infection. Your doctor may check your erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein. These tests can further indicate an infection.

What are the Symptoms of a Spinal Infection?

Spinal infections need to be diagnosed as quickly as possible. They sometimes develop slowly over weeks or even months. Because of the slow progression, it is essential to know some of the warning signs of a spinal infection: 

  • Back pain with stiffness
  • Back pain that does not go away at rest or is worse at night
  • Night sweats, fever, or chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Limited mobility 
  • Surgical wounds that indicate an infection, including redness and warmth around the site or puss

If you suspect an infection, you must see your surgeon or doctor. Though doctors can treat most spinal infections, they can be fatal without treatment.

What Causes a Spinal Infection?

There are two types of spinal infections; discitis and osteomyelitis. Discitis is when the pathogens infect the vertebrae discs of the spine, while osteomyelitis is an infection of the bones of the spine. 

How does the infection spread into the spine? Usually, it is through the bloodstream. Common bacteria seen in infection are Staph or E.Coli. They typically get into the bloodstream through surgery or intravenous drug use. 

How Serious is a Spinal Infection?

As stated earlier, a spinal infection can be fatal. On average, 20% of patients with a spinal infection die due to the infection. 

Research is showing spinal infections are increasing yearly. This may be due to the increased use of vascular devices and forms of instrumentation. Also, intravenous drug use continues to rise. 

Suspect you have a spinal infection? Immediately inform your surgeon or physician for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

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If you suspect a spinal infection, make an appointment with our top spine surgeon

Dr. Hepler is a pediatric and adult spine surgeon. If you are looking for a spine doctor in Delray Beach or a spine doctor in Fort Lauderdale, consider Dr. Hepler, a leading fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon.

Dr. Hepler treats a variety of spinal conditions, including: 

You don’t have to suffer in pain; it’s time to get the best diagnosis and treatment that Palm Beach County has to offer. 

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The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.