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What is a Diskitis Infection?

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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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A diskitis infection, also known as disc inflammation, is an infection of the disc space between the vertebral bones, or the bones in the spine. This inflammation causes swelling, heat, and pain in the area. Diskitis is typically associated with osteomyelitis. Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone.

A diskitis infection is usually caused by an infection process, either bacterial or viral in nature. The infection starts in another part of the body and is spread through the bloodstream. The onset of diskitis is slow and subtle, often making proper diagnosis difficult. General signs of a diskitis infection are localized pain, stiffness and limited mobility of the area of inflammation, an increase in the curvature of the spine to offset pain, and a general irritability. Abdominal pain is also a common complaint when diskitis is in the low back area. A low grade fever, chills and weight loss are uncommon but can occur. Movement exacerbates symptoms and discomfort is not alleviated through conservative treatments such as rest and oral pain relievers.

Diskitis infections are more common in children or people with diabetes, some forms of cancer, chronic renal (kidney) insufficiencies, or those prone to infections. Surgery, usually on the spine, can also cause this inflammation process. This infection can be located in the lumbar or low back area, in the thoracic or mid back region, or in the cervical or neck region.

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The primary goal of treatment is decreasing the inflammation and the pain. Treatment depends on the cause. If diskitis is caused by an infection, anti-staphylococcal antibiotics are used. If diskitis is caused by an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake as seen in multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, anti-inflammatory medications are utilized. If discomfort is severe enough, the use of pain killers or NSAID’s, non-steroidal anti inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, and rest are recommended.

If properly diagnosed, the prognosis or outcome of diskitis infection is good. A diagnosis can be made through the use of x-rays, MRI’s or magnetic resonance imaging, bone scans, and blood work to evaluate the level of white blood cells and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, a nonspecific screening test that measures how much inflammation is in the body.

Occasionally there are side effects from the treatment medications. Persistent pain after treatment is rare. Full recovery from a diskitis infection is common unless it is caused by a chronic autoimmune process. In this cause, outcome depends on the type and severity of the chronic condition.

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