Medical malpractice doesn’t just mean instances like when a surgeon makes a mistake during surgery. Medical negligence can also include times when a doctor fails to diagnose (or misdiagnose) a condition completely. Errors like these often lead to tragedy and catastrophic injuries.
A spinal cord abscess (SCA), sometimes called an epidural abscess, is an infection in the spinal cord. Left untreated, these infections can quickly turn fatal. Because they’re rare, some physicians miss the signs, which can lead to serious and lifelong injuries to the patient.
What is a spinal cord abscess?
An SCA is a condition that can cause permanent damage to the spinal cord. It occurs when the space between the spine and the spinal cord lining become infected. A pocket of pus forms in the affected area, which causes swelling that pushes on the spinal cord, causing various and severe health problems.
An abscess, a swollen area in your tissues that contains a buildup of pus, occurs when injured tissues become infected. To help fight off infection, the body’s immune system sends white blood cells to the damaged tissue. This causes pus to build up, made up of dead cells, immune cells, and bacteria.
Spinal cord abscesses are rare enough that some doctors may even forget to test for it. However, misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose can end in catastrophic injury to the patient and a possible malpractice case. Many spinal abscesses are mistaken for typical back pain and patients don’t receive the proper care in time.
Some patients suffering from an SCA may make several trips to the hospital or to their doctor with symptoms or pain before receiving a correct diagnosis. However, if a spinal cord abscess is left untreated for too long, the damage may already be done.
Recognizing symptoms of a spinal cord abscess
Doctors are taught to recognize the symptoms of an SCA, as delayed diagnosis can lead to long-term and serious physical issues. Common symptoms of spinal cord abscess include the following:
- Back pain
- Bowel or bladder incontinence
- Difficulty urinating
- Weakness in legs
Diagnosing a spinal cord abscess
Doctors and medical professionals may use a number of tools to diagnose an SCA. These can include:
- Blood tests
- CT scan
- Fluid sample from affected area (spinal tap)
When diagnosed in time, SCAs are relatively easily treatable using antibiotics or surgery, depending on the severity of the injury. However, if the abscess is diagnosed too late or misdiagnosed, the patient can suffer serious complications.
Complications from undiagnosed SCAs
Untreated spinal cord abscesses can cause life-threatening complications, including:
- Spinal or bone infections
- Chronic back pain
- Permanent brain and nervous system damage
- Wrongful death
When a patient is injured due to a misdiagnosed SCA, they not only have to deal with physical issues, but there will be financial issues to worry about as well. Catastrophic injuries may require ongoing medical bills, physical therapy, lost wages, and rehabilitation. Victims of malpractice may be eligible for compensation from responsible parties.