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What is Discitis?

Discitis, also called discitis, is inflammation between the spaces of the intervertebral discs in the spine. Intervertebral discs are located between the vertebrae and spaces between them are called intervertebral disc spaces. Swelling in these spaces puts pressure on the discs and results in pain. Chronic back pain is a rare complication of discitis. Discitis itself is relatively rare and usually affects young children.

Discitis is one of many kinds of spinal inflammation which can cause irritation and swelling of your spine’s surrounding vertebrae, joints, and tissues. Discitis often accompanies another medical condition called osteomyelitis, an infection with inflammation of the bone or the bone marrow.

Causes of Discitis

Discitis is normally caused by viral, bacterial or fungal infections. However, discitis can also be caused by an autoimmune disorder, a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and damages its own tissues.

Signs and Symptoms of Discitis

Common symptoms of discitis are swelling and pain in the affected area of the spine, often the lower or upper back. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty with movement
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Postural changes
  • Fever

Diagnosis of Discitis

To arrive at an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may order several tests, such as:

  • Blood tests to check for signs of infection
  • Bone scans: To examine the vertebrae and the spaces around them to assess the vitality of the bone and determine if you have a bone infection.
  • Imaging tests (X-ray or MRI): To obtain images of the spine and surrounding tissues.
  • Tissue analysis (biopsy of the spinal tissue): To collect a sample for analysis under a microscope to determine the diagnosis.

Treatment for Discitis

Your doctor is likely to prescribe oral medications to treat the condition. For example, antibiotics for a bacterial infection or an anti-inflammatory medication for an autoimmune reaction.

The doctor may also prescribe steroids to help relieve inflammation with severe or chronic discitis. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also be recommended to help relieve pain.

Other common treatments include but are not limited to:

  • Complete and prolonged bed rest
  • Changes in your day-to-day activities
  • Wearing of a back brace or other support devices

In severe cases of discitis, the doctor may opt for invasive surgeries to resolve the problem. The surgery is likely to involve reconstruction of the affected areas in the spine to improve function and mobility.

Risk Factors for Discitis

You are at risk of developing discitis if you:

  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have an autoimmune disorder
  • Are recovering from surgery
  • Use intravenous drugs

Also, children under age 10 are more prone to discitis.

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