Discitis occurs when a disc—which rests between the vertebrae in the spine—becomes inflamed due to a bacterial or viral infection. Most often it’s the discs found in the thoracic and lumbar areas of the spine that are affected by this disease, and it disproportionately affects children under the age of ten. A very painful condition, sufferers report that, with even small movements of their spine, pain radiates throughout their entire body.
Those affected by discitis often see a slow onset of symptoms ranging from mild to severe back pain to a series of fevers, alternating chills and sweating and stiffness. They may also experience an inability to walk or even sit up and suffer from serious fatigue and appetite loss.
A physical exam coupled with imaging techniques such as x-rays, MRIs and bone scans can often confirm a diagnosis of discitis, and a blood test may be necessary to determine the level of white blood cells and whether that level has changed. And lastly, a physician may decide to check if a patient’s sedimentation rate has risen—a sign of inflammation—through an erythocyte sedimentation rate screening.
Depending on what caused the underlying infection and the age and general health of the patient, a normal course of treatment will concentrate on eradicating the infection while providing relief from pain and other symptoms. For this an array of medications can be utilized—from anti-inflammatories to steroids—in conjunction with rest and possibly bracing. In the most severe instances of discitis, surgery in the form of a discectomy or interbody fusion may be necessary to achieve a positive outcome.