Delayed Diagnosis Of Epidural Abscess

Delayed diagnosis of epidural abscess can lead to serious complications including permanent paralysis, but obtaining diagnosis is often complicated.

Delayed Diagnosis Of Epidural Abscesses

Delayed diagnosis of epidural abscesses adversely impacts a patient’s recovery prognosis. Unfortunately, it is a difficult condition to accurately diagnose and can at times remain undiagnosed and untreated until it is too late to ensure full recovery.

Since the early symptoms of epidural abscess, like back pain, are so vague, patients may find themselves seeing different doctors over several visits. It may be that only after multiple treatment options are explored that a proper diagnosis is achieved. This is dangerous since delayed diagnosis can stymie recovery and, worse, lead to complete paralysis.

How and Why Epidural Abscess May Be Misdiagnosed

Despite visiting healthcare providers, receiving treatment, X-rays and CT scans, epidural abscess can be misdiagnosed. The most common reasons it is misdiagnosed are:

    • Pain medication bias. Given the rise in the number of prescription medication abuse cases in recent years, healthcare providers are particularly wary of patients who return time and time again complaining of non-specific pain. Since epidural abscess does not respond to typically prescribed pain medication, including methadone, patients may appear to be returning simply to secure an additional prescription for the powerful pain reliever. They are then diagnosed as drug seekers and sent on their way when CT scans and X-rays don’t turn up anything abnormal.


    • Lack of continuity of care. The risks of misdiagnosis are greater for patients who continually go to emergency rooms to seek treatment. Without a primary care physician to evaluate the patient’s complete health history and coordinate care, red flags that would indicate epidural abscess can be missed. A primary care physician would be able to determine if the symptoms were related to an existing condition or not and if the patient had recently been ill.


  • Mimicry of other conditions. Back pain is an extremely common complaint that can be caused by a wide variety of things, some of which will resolve themselves on their own and others that will not. Physicians may take a “wait and see” approach or may try several other treatments before arriving at the correct diagnosis. This is especially true if scans and X-rays come back negative. Epidural abscess is relatively rare and, therefore, not necessarily the first thing healthcare providers think of when presented with early symptoms.