What is the role of lab testing in the diagnosis of spinal cord infarction?

Updated: Jul 26, 2018
  • Author: Thomas F Scott, MD; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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Routine CBC; fasting serum glucose; erythrocyte sedimentation rate; lipid panel for cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides; serologic test for syphilis, and; electrolytes

Leukocytosis, including a left shift to polymorphonuclear WBCs, suggests an infectious myelitis or other infectious cause of spinal cord compromise.

Diabetes mellitus is present in approximately one half of patients with epidural abscess and is a vascular risk factor. Other risk factors including the metabolic syndrome with obesity and hypertension may also be relevant.

On rare occasions, hypokalemia or hyperkalemia presents with flaccid quadriparesis, which is in the differential diagnosis of myelopathy.

Tests for vascular risk factors, especially diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, coagulopathies, and systemic lupus erythematosus and other forms of arteritis and vasculitis. The diagnosis of giant cell arteritis may be suspected by an elevated ESR but requires temporal artery biopsy for confirmation.

The search for vascular risk factors extends from diabetes mellitus (ie, fasting serum glucose), hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia (ie, lipid panel for low-density lipoprotein, very low-density lipoprotein, and high-density lipoprotein) to anticardiolipin or antiphospholipid syndromes (ie, activated partial thromboplastin time, antiphospholipid antibody titer) and other coagulation disorders, such as protein C and protein S deficiencies and thrombocytosis or thrombocytopenia (eg, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura [platelet count]). [16, 17]

The less common causes usually are sought only if no obvious vascular risk factor is found in a young patient with a spinal cord infarct.

Infectious causes are those that can be defined by examination of blood or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The infectious causes range from syphilis (eg, serum rapid plasma reagin [RPR], Venereal Disease Research Laboratory [VDRL] test, or Wasserman, CSF VDRL or Hinton) to viruses that can be identified specifically by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), such as herpes simplex type 1 and 2, varicella-zoster, Epstein-Barr, human T-cell leukemia type 1 (HTLV-1), HIV, and hepatitis B.

Autoimmune assessment of blood and CSF extends from screening by erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), antinuclear antibody (ANA), and complement level assay to immunoassay determination of nuclear antibodies.

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