Menu   WellSpan Health

Health Library

Health Library

Epidural Abscess

An epidural abscess is an infection that forms in the space between the skull bones and the brain lining (intracranial epidural abscess) or in the space between the bones of the spine and the lining membrane of the spinal cord (spinal epidural abscess).

An epidural abscess results in a pocket of pus that builds up and causes swelling. It can press against the bones and the meninges, which are the membranes that protect the spinal cord and the brain. This swelling and the underlying infection can affect sensations and physical movement.

Facts about epidural abscess

Although it can also affect the brain, an epidural abscess is more likely to strike the spinal cord. Typically, an epidural abscess is caused by a bacterial infection, usually Staphylococcus aureus, but it could be from a fungus or another germ circulating in your body. Much of the time, doctors can't find a particular cause of the infection. Sometimes, they can't even identify a risk factor.

If you suffer from persistent sinus or ear infections or have had an injury to the head, you may be more likely to develop an epidural abscess inside the skull. You're more likely to develop an epidural abscess on the spine if you have an infection in the bones of the spine or in your blood, or have had a surgical procedure on your back.

Types of epidural abscess

The different types of epidural abscesses specify where they are found:

  • An intracranial epidural abscess is located inside the skull.

  • A spinal epidural abscess is located on the spine.


An epidural abscess may cause these symptoms:

  • Headache

  • Disturbed consciousness

  • Fever

  • Unusual sensation throughout your body

  • Problems with coordination and movement

  • Difficulty walking, sometimes as severe as paralysis—being unable to move the legs or arms

  • General weakness of the muscles in both the arms and legs that worsens

  • Pain in the back

  • Inability to control your bowels or bladder

  • Feeling nauseated and/or vomiting

  • Feeling very tired and sluggish


A doctor may use several tests to look at the spine and brain and the infected area to diagnose an epidural abscess, including:

  • MRI scan

  • CT scan

  • Sample of fluid from the abscessed area to determine the cause of the infection


Typically, you will be given 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 alleviate the pressure, or he or she may remove it entirely. Surgery is generally required when moving is difficult, you are unable to move at all, or you have sensation problems, such as numbness somewhere in the body.

Calling the doctor

Treatment of an epidural abscess is essential. If you’re feeling back pain, having any neurological problems, or are running a fever along with a bad headache, call your doctor and have the problem treated promptly.


Get fast treatment for any infection. Being treated for illnesses such as blood infections, sinus infections, and ear infections can help reduce your risk of developing an epidural abscess.


Without treatment, serious complications can set in:

  • Meningitis, an infection of the meninges

  • Abscess of the spinal cord itself

  • Infection inside the spine or skull bones

  • Abscess in the brain

  • Long-term back pain

  • Irreversible damage to the brain or nervous system, including paralysis

Once damage to the 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.

Key points to remember

When you're facing an infection that's directly affecting your brain or spine, it's a serious health issue. Any unusual symptoms related to loss of sensation, trouble moving, and fever—particularly if you've recently been ill—should be quickly evaluated. The sooner you treat an epidural abscess, the better the outcome.

Epidural Abscess - WellSpan Health

Author: Rodriguez, Diana
Online Medical Reviewer: Marcellin, Lindsey, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2012-06-17T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2012-06-18T00:00:00
Published Date: 2012-06-18T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2011-02-10T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

I would like to:

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.