Frischman & Rizza

Spinal Epidural Abscess
Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Pennsylvania

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spinal epidural abscess medical malpractice

Quick Facts


While rare, occurring in less than 3 patients per 10,000 hospital admissions, a Spinal Epidural Abscess (SEA) can cause devastating and permanent neurologic damage.

As shown in the illustration below, a SEA is a collection of pus-type infections located between the dura (the spinal cord’s outer covering) and the bones of the spine (vertebrae). SEAs are most often located in the middle and lower areas of the spine. SEAs are typically caused by a bacterial infection, such as Staphylococcus Aureus, that originates on the skin, throat, or mouth. As the pus builds up, it will fill the space between the spinal cord and the spine’s bones. As the pus expands, it can compress the spinal cord, causing the patient to experience neurologic symptoms.

Essentially, a SEA is an infection inside of the spine. While the condition is treatable if diagnosed early, if the diagnosis is delayed, a SEA often will result in severe nerve damage and, in some cases, paralysis.

SEAs can develop at any age. However, most people who develop a SEA are between ages 30 and 60. Men more than women have a higher statistical chance of developing a SEA. In addition to age and male gender, the other risk factors for SEAs are diabetes, MRSA infections, infection of nearby spinal bone structures and soft tissue, recent epidural injections, IV drug use, alcoholism, malignancy, and recent spinal trauma and surgery.



Timely SEA diagnosis is the key element to a proper and comprehensive treatment plan for the painful condition. If your healthcare provider is unable to correlate your symptoms to SEA, overlooks the onset of unmistakable signs, and veers away from performing reliable diagnostics, it can lead you towards a world of unnecessary complications. This also holds true if your provider recently gave you epidural injections that may have led to your development of SEA.


As a result, your SEA may become unmanageable to the point where any symptoms that could have been addressed earlier grow out of hand. Similarly, the longer you have to wait for the ideal treatment to be administered, the more your related symptoms and complications may grow as a result. 


That is why your healthcare provider plays a critical role in helping you treat your SEA. If they do not pay attention to apparent symptoms and avoid necessary diagnostics, you may face a lifetime of challenges ahead. In addition to ongoing pain and permanent disabilities, this could also cause death. 



If your healthcare provider’s negligence, mistake, or mishandling causes your SEA to go unnoticed or untreated, your diagnosis or treatment gets delayed. Whether your SEA is detected quite late or does not undergo associated treatments, you can explore your options to file a medical malpractice lawsuit if the reason traces back to your healthcare provider. 


When you are already going through the turmoil of a condition as grueling as SEA, going through legal proceedings may seem like the last thing you want to put yourself and your loved ones through. At the same time, it is a necessary action that helps you seek justice while also allowing you to attain compensation that helps with your treatment and the challenges that SEA brings to your life. 



At Frischman & Rizza, our experienced medical malpractice attorneys in Pittsburg hold a firm grasp of the complexities of such cases and the additional challenges they present to patients and their families. Due to this reason, we stay with you every step of the way to guide you through the process and steer your case in the right direction to get you the outcome you need.


Through the Frischman & Rizza family, you can let go of the burden of proving fault, arguing your case, and going through a plethora of paperwork all by yourself. Instead, our attorneys take responsibility to gather evidence, draw correlations, and prepare strong legal arguments on your behalf. 


Throughout the process, we take care of the following crucial aspects.

Understanding Your Case. The process begins with our specialized attorneys comprehending the details of your case. This allows us to determine if you have a strong legal claim to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Gathering Evidence. Once we have gathered the facts of your case, we start collecting relevant evidence to support your claim. This ensures that you have a proper timeline to outline how your SEA was mishandled, mistreated, or overlooked by your healthcare provider.

Filing the Lawsuit. After we have the necessary information, we will file a lawsuit on your behalf. We may also request additional evidence from the healthcare provider during this phase if specific yet vital records are not available to you.

Proving Fault. Once the proceedings start, we make it a point to prove the healthcare provider at fault through the available evidence and related arguments. Our goal during this phase is to outline the provider’s negligence or mishandling regarding your case to the court of law.

Securing Compensation. Our ultimate objective is to respect your required goals with the case and achieve them through our efforts. This includes ensuring the rightful compensation for the difficulties you face with the provider’s medical malpractice. 

This ensures that you do not have to feel alone or stranded while going through such a grueling time in your life. At the same time, our specialized experience, timely processes, and fierce dedication to supporting your claim increase your chances of securing your desired outcome from the case. 


While exploring a medical malpractice case for spinal epidural abscess, you must have foundational knowledge regarding the condition, its diagnosis, and associated treatment. In addition to giving you much-needed insight, it also helps you recall if your healthcare provider’s behavior had been negligent in any of the following areas.

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Contact a Pittsburgh Personal Injury Attorney at Frischman & Rizza for a free case evaluation.

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Because the early signs and symptoms of a SEA are similar to many less serious conditions, such as back pain and unexplained fever, delays in diagnosing a SEA are common. It is for this reason that SEAs must be considered in any patient who presents with the following classic signs, often referred to as the “Classic Triad,” associated with SEAs:

  • Back pain (present in 2/3 cases).
  • Fever (present in almost ½ of cases).
  • Neurologic deficits, such as motor weakness (present in ½ of cases).

It is rare for patients to initially present to an ER, UrgiCenter of physician office with all 3 of the “Classic Triad” of symptoms associated with SEAs.

When a patient complains of the sudden onset of back pain or motor weakness without trauma, SEAs need to be considered, especially since they can progress to cause devastating neurologic deficits.

Mechanism Of Neurologic Injury

Injury to the spinal cord from a SEA can occur when the pus collection blocks blood flow into and out of the spinal cord. Without proper blood flow, the spinal cord, like any other part of the body, is susceptible to damage. If the abscess becomes large enough, it can also compress the spinal cord or one of its nerve roots. When the spinal cord or one of its nerve roots is compressed, the portion of the body controlled by that area can become neurologically impaired.

Four Stages Of A Spinal Epidural Abscess

The 4 common stages of an evolving SEA are:

  1. Back pain at the level where the infection is present, sometimes causing a fever.
  1. Nerve root pain from the area that is affected by the abscess.
  1. Motor weakness and sensory deficit by the areas affected by the abscess. During this stage, bowel and bladder dysfunction can develop.
  1. Paralysis with complete bowel and bladder loss.

Diagnosis And Treatment

Early diagnosis is critical to patient outcome. The longer period and the severity or extent of the compression on the patient’s spinal cord from an undiagnosed SEA directly relate to the permanency of the patient’s neurologic deficits.

Although neurologic exams and blood tests for infection and inflammation, including white blood counts, Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate, and C-Reactive Protein, are potentially helpful, these tests are not diagnostic of a SEA. Many patients with SEAs will have normal lab results during the early stages of a SEA. Again, if a patient presents with sudden onset of severe back pain and fever without any obvious reason, SEA must be considered. An MRI is the so-called “Gold Standard” for diagnosing a SEA. This is because an MRI will permit the identification of a SEA at an early stage when a neurologic deficit is much more likely to be reversed.

Depending upon the patient’s neurologic status, high dose antibiotics, often administered via an IV, may prove sufficient to eliminate the SEA. This is especially true in those patients who are not experiencing motor loss or bowel and/or bladder dysfunction. However, when antibiotics treat a SEA, the patient must be monitored at regular intervals to determine if their neurologic condition worsens. 

This is because neurologic symptoms of more than 72 hours without surgical evacuation of the SEA are associated with a poorer outcome. The chance for neurologic recovery decreases the longer the delay in evacuating the SEA. If the antibiotics fail to treat the SEA adequately and continue to press on the spinal cord or its nerve roots, surgical evacuation of the SEA is required, followed by 4-6 weeks of IV antibiotics. Once paralysis sets in, the only realistic chance for meaningful recovery is a neurosurgical evacuation of the SEA within 24 hours.

Due to these risks, challenges, as well as lifelong and life-threatening complications, enduring a SEA gets even more difficult when it stems from your healthcare provider’s negligence in diagnosing or treating the condition. In such cases, you want to hold the negligent party accountable and get the financial support you deserve to cope with the condition. 


Work with Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyers Who Understand Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

We understand that a delay in diagnosing a spinal epidural abscess can cause life-altering consequences. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a spinal epidural abscess that was not timely diagnosed or treated, call our knowledgeable and experienced team. We are here to view medical records, understand the actions of the medical professionals, see the risk factors, the medical bills from the serious harm due to the underlying infection, and move forward to build a strong case.

Whether surgical decompression, brain, and spinal cord issues, a neurological deficit, neurological injury, bone infections, or other very sneaky illness issues, work with our legal professionals today.

We know that the lack of a proper diagnosis and delayed treatment can lead to bloodstream infections, and depending on the situation, permanent paralysis and even death. Whether you have confidential or sensitive information in a significant SEA matter, remember that we abide by our attorney-client relationship.


Our experienced lawyers can handle SEA claims and provide you with a free consultation on the ways forward.