Discitis Causes and Treatment

Discitis: Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Discitis is an infection between intervertebral discs or vertebral bones of the spine. This infection is viral in nature can get chronic if immediate diagnosis and treatment is not given on time. So it is very important that if anyone develops the symptoms of discitis, without making delay get a thorough diagnosis to determine the real cause of the symptoms.

This health condition develops when some harmful bacteria invade the discs directly from some other organs of the body. Other than that another most usual reason behind the growth of this spinal inflammation is some kind of surgery or trauma in the spine.

This health issue generally occurs in the lumbar or lower back area of the spine, however, it may spread up to neck spine (cervical) and in the mid-back spine (thoracic). It is often accompanied by Vertebral Osteomyelitis (affects bone and bone marrow) which is also a spinal infection having, mostly similar symptoms.

If anyone develops both these spinal infections at the same point in time then their condition can get severe very easily and it can affect their day to day lifestyle badly. In this condition, early diagnosis is the only relief so that the necessary treatment can be started on time.

Though discitis is not a very common disease still as it produces very painful symptoms so its awareness is very important so that the necessary diagnostic test should be provided to the affected person on time.

Many times it is confused with other common types of spinal infections because of similarity of its symptoms with other kinds of spinal diseases but its treatment procedure is quite different than the other spinal diseases which imply that it can be fatal in the lack of appropriate diagnosis.

The most common bug which causes Discitis known as Staphylococcus aureus. This health issue can develop in both children as well as in adult people however children are the greater victims of this issue around the world.

Symptoms of Discitis

symptoms of discitisChronic pain is the primary sign of discitis disease in the lower and upper back regions of the spine. Other than this some common symptoms of this disease are mentioned below:

  • Stiffness felt in back
  • Pain and discomfort in the abdominal area
  • Changes in body posture
  • Difficulty in the normal movement of the body which was not an issue before.
  • Fever and chills
  • Pain that occurs in back regions of the body remains fixed to that particular infected area. Just like other backaches, it doesn’t radiate down (leg portion as in sciatica) or any other parts of the body.

Risk factors

Certain lifestyles factors, as well as some health issues that affect your body’s immunity system, increases your risk of developing discitis or spine infection.

  • AIDS or Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Infection
  • Vascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple surgeries in the same region
  • Any surgery which takes a very long duration causing excess blood loss
  • Organ transplantation
  • Malnutrition
  • Intravenous drug usage
  • Excess Alcohol consumption for a very long time
  • Smoking
  • Systemic usage for steroids for a very long time

Causes of Discitis

There are two primary causes of discitis, out of them the one develops in rare condition. The rare condition occurs when an infection is transferred to a healthy person through a needle or any other device in a diagnostic or surgical or therapeutic procedure.

For example, during a surgical procedure, a needle is inserted into the back portion or for a diagnostic test needle is required to be inserted in the back which can transmit pathogens (infected virus and bacteria ) to the body causing infections or inflammation.

Apart from this other causes of discitis which is also the most common condition that triggers this spinal infection is under the situation when an infection occurs in certain other body parts and the infected bacteria or virus travels through the bloodstream to the spinal disc leading it infected majorly.

This type of infection is also known as transient bacteremia or short-lived bacteria in the bloodstream. This type of disc infections are mostly caused by infected bacteria or virus that enters in the disc by the blood from the respiratory tract (nose, lungs, throat), urinary tract (bladders or kidney), intestine, dental (gum disease) and pelvic infections or any other entrance in the human body.

It is very difficult to treat this kind of spinal infection because the spine is the biggest avascular organ in the human body which has difficulty in getting the needed amount of blood supply. So in order to fight with infection, it faces immense difficulty in the lack of appropriate resources.

Even the body’s immunity system fails to provide the necessary support to fight with pathogens that makes this infection viral. As discitis is mostly caused by an infection which is first developed elsewhere in the body so certain health issues contain a very high risk of developing this type of spinal infection such as AIDS, Diabetes, Certain kidney diseases, Cancer, etc.

So it is very crucial for people who have developed these health issues to remain alert as their risk remains too high to develop discitis at any point in time of their life. Other than these conditions an autoimmune disorder can also cause a person to develop this kind of spinal infection leading to swelling, pain, and inflammation in the disc.


The diagnostic process of discitis disease will be based on your symptoms. The doctor will ask about your medical history to determine a link between spinal infection and other contributing factors and will consider your symptoms.

Fever generally develops only in the initial stage of this infection when you won’t notice any major symptoms so the patient may not get fever later on after localization of infection in the disc.

Other than that in most cases, the count of white blood cells remains normal. However, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate increases unusually in the cases of discitis, which denotes how faster the red blood cells are falling indicating the existence of inflammation in certain parts of the body.

For diagnosing this spinal inflammation blood test are commonly prescribed by the doctors however researches show that Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI test is the most reliable test for diagnosing this disc infection for an accurate result.

For diagnosing discitis following tests and tools are recommended by the doctors to diagnose the existence of an infection.

Blood Test

A blood sample is taken of the patient to diagnose the disc infection. This sample is tested in the laboratory under the supervision of lab technicians who analyze the blood molecules etc. through different types of test for detecting the existence of infections signs.

Some common analysis that a lab expert focus includes targeting the total blood count mean count of red and white blood cells are normal or not. The erythrocyte sedimentation rate test is also done to analyze the signs of infection which prove quite effective as it helps to determine the fall in red blood cells.

Imaging Tests

For a clear picture of the spine and its surrounding tissues, your doctor may ask for certain imaging tests such as X-ray and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to see the existence of inflammation in clear picture.

MRI is the most appropriate test in the cases of disc inflammation to detect accurate scenario of disease. This imaging test will also clear whether the inflammation has moved other areas or not.

Bone Scans

For the complete examination of vertebrae and its surrounding spaces, your doctor may recommend for bone scans. This diagnostic test helps to understand the vitality of bone and any infection thereon if it exists.

To start the scanning test a radioactive material is injected in veins of the concerned patient by a nurse or any other specialist. This injected material travels via blood and gets collected in bones (bone areas which are breaking down or growing).

After this, you will be instructed to lie down so that a scanning machine and camera will move around your body to locate the radioactive material where it is ultimately collected in the body. This scanning test is very helpful in diagnosing disc inflammation.

Tissue analysis

In certain cases or scenario, Biopsy test is recommended by the doctors in which little amount of spinal tissues are collected for the sampling purpose. This further analyzed to detect the existence of an infection.

Local anesthesia is given to the patient for conducting the biopsy process where a patient needs to be hospitalized until the time the whole processing completed.


After diagnostic tests if you are diagnosed with the discitis or disc inflammation then it is very essential to get its immediate treatment otherwise your condition will get severe with time leading to more chronic symptoms that can hamper your overall lifestyle and health.

Though discitis is a treatable disease however it requires immense effort and time to cure it completely. Antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs are the primarily recommended medications to fight with the infection however it is very difficult for the antibiotics to pass through the bloodstream to the infected area as the flow of blood in the spinal disc is not as high as in other organs in the body.

This is the reasons body’s own immune cells fail to fights with the infected organisms which have invaded certain discs between vertebrae of the spine in the lack of appropriate blood flow in the spine which makes this infection viral.

Due to discitis surrounding tissues of the spine, vertebrae and joints get inflamed leading to swelling and pain develops which further affects the movement of the affected person.

Approx. six to eight weeks antibiotic course is given to the patient intravenously (IV) at an infusion center. The concerned patient has to take these IVs as an outdoor patient every day to complete its course. This whole antibiotic course is very important to be completed in order to remove the infection from its root.

Other than antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications a doctor may also prescribe for steroids to treat the severe or chronic cases of disc inflammation. For relieving intense pain non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen are recommended to the patients.

For providing support to your spine and for dealing with severe pain many times spinal brace is recommended by the doctors for the relief. Though this spine brace will restrict your body movements for the time being, however, it is helpful for speeding up your healing process.

Apart from this complete bed rest, and certain changes in the daily lifestyle of the concerned patient is recommended. This may include avoiding alcohol consumption, heavy weight lifting, etc.

In the healing period, certain body exercises like arm workouts should be done to avoid weaknesses that is most likely to develop during the whole treatment process. Other than that a healthy diet routine is also necessary to be followed very strictly for boosting the healing process naturally and for providing full strength to your spine.

As antibiotic therapy takes a very long time to be completed and in meanwhile body immobility issues also occur so it is very important that there should be strong family members as well as other friendly support must be there for the patient otherwise this situational stress can lead the victim in to depression that can again affect the recovery period.

If a situational depression occurs then necessary treatment for the same must be provided to the patient. In a very rare condition of discitis, some more invasive forms of treatment are needed to be given to cure the condition. Under these circumstances, surgery is considered as the ultimate treatment option to relieve the patient’s condition fully.

In the surgical process reconstruction of the spinal area is done for improving its functionality and for more easier body movements without any support. If surgery is conducted then it requires total bed rest and other precautions to be followed very strictly for ensuring a safe recovery.

As discitis is an uncommon severe spinal infection and can do major damaging if remains untreated for a very longer duration so it is very important to get immediate diagnosis test if anyone develops the symptoms of discitis without making further delay.

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