Patients with infective endocarditis (IE) are generally referred to the intensive care unit (ICU) for one or more organ dysfunctions caused by complications of IE.
Upper cervical spinal epidural abscess (UCEA) (occiput to C2) is an uncommon condition. In upper cervical spine infections, degradation of the odontoid ligaments with subsequent atlantoaxial subluxation or dislocation is a risk. The prevalence of osteomyelitis at this level has increased significantly over the past decades primarily due to immunocompromised hosts, intravenous drug use, and infective endocarditis.
Neurologic events are frequent causes of ICU admission in patients with IE. They can arise through various mechanisms consisting of stroke or transient ischemic attack, cerebral hemorrhage, mycotic aneurysm, meningitis, brain abscess, or encephalopathy.
Neurologic complications occurred in 35% (58/166) of patients: 41% (54/133) of mitral or aortic valve IE and 12% (4/33) of tricuspid valve IE. Of 133 cases of mitral or aortic valve IE, encephalopathy occurred in 14%, meningitis in 5%, and salient headache in 3%. All neurologic complications occurred more often with Staphylococcus aureus infection (67%) than with viridans streptococci (22%), including encephalopathy (22% versus 7%), meningitis (17% versus 0%), stroke (39% versus 16%), and death (39% versus 9%). Encephalopathy was associated with virulent organisms, increased patient age, and uncontrolled infection. Clinical, radiologic, and neuropathologic data all suggest that infective microemboli are often etiologic in IE-related encephalopathy. There were no macroscopic brain abscesses clinically identified. Meningitis occurred only with virulent organisms. While many clinical aspects of IE have changed in recent years, the frequency and gravity of neurologic complications have not 1).
In select cases of stable patients with cerebral abscess and IE, the neurological lesion should always be addressed first and cardiac surgery should be performed second 2).