Addiction should never delay a diagnosis of discitis | Bolt Burdon Kemp Addiction should never delay a diagnosis of discitis | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Addiction should never delay a diagnosis of discitis

Since I started at BBK in November 2021, I have been a member of the specialist Spinal Injury team who work with spinal cord injury clients resulting from Clinical Negligence or Personal Injury.

I have learned so much in the space of just a few months and have been lucky enough to get experience working on some really complex cases with solicitors who have very specialised knowledge in spinal injury claims.

Spinal cord injuries can be caused by an accident or medical mistake, or as a result of an infection or disease. However the damage is caused, the impact can be catastrophic, as the spinal cord carries messages from the brain to the rest of the body. These messages are responsible for controlling movement of the body and functions such as urinating.

Before working in the Spinal team I had never come across, or even heard of, Discitis.  Unfortunately, I am working on a couple of cases at the moment where clear failures have had life changing consequences for our clients.

What is discitis?

Discitis is an infection of the space between the spinal vertebrae, which, if diagnosed fairly quickly is very treatable with antibiotic treatment with no lasting impact on the patient. Discitis is one of the more rare conditions that can lead to a spinal cord injury.

Typical symptoms include (but are not limited to) localised severe back pain, raised inflammatory markers and spine tenderness. The most accurate and common way to diagnose the infection is through an MRI scan.

Discitis and intravenous drug use

At BBK we have encountered cases where there has been a failure to take a complete patient history, which would have further indicated to the medical practitioner that the symptoms the patient was presenting with are attributable to a spinal infection.

For example, an individual with a current or past history of intravenous drug use is more susceptible to a spinal infection such as discitis. This is because intravenous drug use can allow harmful bacteria into the blood stream which can go to the spine and lead to the development of an infection.

Unfortunately, it can be the case that a patient with a history of intravenous drug use is denied a complete spinal assessment and is turned away because of social stigma and prejudice towards drug users in general. The very thing that should help the doctors reach a diagnosis leads them to missing it altogether – a very depressing irony. Looking through some patients notes it is abundantly clear that the doctors had made their minds up before even assessing the patients.

What does a delayed diagnosis mean?

The impact of delayed diagnosis and treatment of Discitis can be life-changing. Unfortunately, we have seen first-hand that it can lead to permanent injuries, in much the same way as any spinal cord injury – restricted mobility, incontinence, sexual dysfunction, altered sensation and pain.

Through the instruction of top, tried and tested experts we have proved that earlier treatment would have led to a much improved outcome.   As with all medical negligence claims we can help secure funds for adapted accommodation, therapies, care, support and equipment – all of which make adapting the life post injury that much easier.

There is a real sadness in all claims – proving that something should not have happened can be a bitter pill for clients to swallow. When the reason that it did happen is layered with prejudice and stigma, it almost makes the negligent treatment even more difficult to accept. Ultimately a better understanding of the infection across the NHS would increase the chances of all patients being diagnosed and treated effectively.

Discitis is a rare disease, but it has the potential for very serious outcomes if it is missed. Helping medical professionals not to prejudge patients, even in a busy A&E department, could make a huge difference. I have seen this first hand.

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