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Chronic thoracic spine pain PDF Print E-mail
AIBS teaching cases
Saturday, 31 July 2004

A 49-year-old woman complaining of thoracic spine pain for 18 months was admitted to the hospital for evaluation. The pain was accompanied by profuse sweating but she did not report any fever.Image

Physical examination revealed tenderness of the affected area on percussion, as well as pain and limitation of motion.

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) was 86 mm (first hour). Chest x-ray showed destruction of the lower part of the body of the eighth thoracic vertebra. Magnetic resonance imaging of the thoracic spine showed pathology of the T8-T9 intervertebral disk and destruction of the T8 vertebral body (Figure 1). Computed tomography scan-guided fine needle aspiration of the affected disc was performed. Gram stain and culture of the obtained specimens for common microorganisms and Brucella species were negative. Serology tests for brucellosis were also negative. In addition, Ziehl-Neelsen stain, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and culture for Mycobacteria were negative. Because of continuing symptoms and lack of diagnosis the patient underwent a vertebrectomy and substitution of the eighth thoracic vertebra with Moss titanium cylinder filled-up with auto-bone grafts. The stabilization was completed using the Kaneda system (Figure 2).

Differential diagnosis
Differential diagnosis includes infectious spondylodiscitis (pyogenic, brucellar, tuberculous, mycotic, protozoan), neoplasms of the spine (primary or metastatic), spondyloarthropathies (ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis), Paget disease, and hematologic neoplasms (chronic leukemias, multiple myeloma).

Tuberculous spondylodiscitis (Pott's disease). Culture of the extracted bone grew Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which was resistant to isoniazid and rifampin.

The patient was treated with pyrazinamide 1500 mg, ethambutol 1200 mg, streptomycin 1 gr, ofloxacin 800 mg, cycloserine 750 mg and vitamin B6 62,5 mg per day. Her symptoms gradually receded. Streptomycin was discontinued after two months of treatment. The rest of antituberculous agents were discontinued five months after initiation of treatment due to severe drug-related hepatotoxicity and psychosis. After treatment discontinuation all adverse reactions subsided. Four and a half years later the patient continues to be free of symptoms and with normal ESR without taking any medications.

Teaching points

  • The involvement of the intervertebral disc favours the diagnosis of an infectious process and not a neoplastic disease.
  • Our patient presented with the challenges of the management of spondylodiscitis. Persistent and even invasive diagnostic work up is needed for the proper and prompt management of these patients. Even then percutaneous approaches to obtain material from the infectious area have a sensitivity of 72% though specificity reaches 94% [1].
  • Multidrug resistant tuberculosis is an important emerging threat to human health globally [2-4]. In vitro drug susceptibility testing may be necessary for all Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates due to the increasing incidence of multidrug resistant strains worldwide. This is particularly so, as inadequate treatment may lead to increasing resistance [5].
  • Psychosis has been an established possible complication of cycloserine and isoniazid treatment. Less often ethambutol, quinolones, and rifampin have been reported to cause psychosis.Image

Reference List

  1. Fouquet B, Goupille P, Gobert F, Cotty P, Roulot B, Valat JP. Infectious discitis diagnostic contribution of laboratory tests and percutaneous discovertebral biopsy. Rev Rhum Engl Ed 1996; 63(1):24-29.
  2. Abe C, Hirano K, Wada M, Aoyagi T. Resistance of Mycobacterium tuberculosis to four first-line anti-tuberculosis drugs in Japan, 1997. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis 2001; 5(1):46-52.
  3. Miah MR, Ali MS, Saleh AA, Sattar H. Primary drug resistance pattern of mycobacterium tuberculosis in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh Med Res Counc Bull 2000; 26(2):33-40.
  4. Stauffer F, Makristathis A, Klein JP, Barousch W. Drug resistance rates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains in Austria between 1995 and 1998 and molecular typing of multidrug-resistant isolates. The Austrian Drug Resistant Tuberculosis Study Group. Epidemiol Infect 2000; 124(3):523-528.
  5. Furin JJ, Becerra MC, Shin SS, Kim JY, Bayona J, Farmer PE. Effect of administering short-course, standardized regimens in individuals infected with drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis 2000; 19(2):132-136.


  1. This case was prepared for our website by P. Rafailidis, MD and P. I. Vergidis, MD.
  2. We thank I. Avramopoulos MD, G. Sapkas, MD, and I. Xinotroulas, MD, for their contribution in the management of the case.
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