Published in BMC Anesthesiol. 2014;14(70)
Authors: Rafael Jaimes, Angelo G Rocco
Background: Epidural lipomatosis (EL) is an increase of adipose tissue, normally occurring in the epidural space, sufficient to distort the thecal sac and compress neural elements. There is a lack of knowledge of risk factors, impact on patient’s symptoms, and its possible association with epidural steroid injections.
Methods History, physical examination, patient chart, and MRI were analyzed from 856 outpatients referred for epidural steroid injections. Seventy patients with signs of EL on MRI comprised the study group. Thirty-four randomly selected patients comprised the control group. The severity of EL was determined by the MRI assessment. The impact of EL was determined by the patient’s history and physical examination. Logistic regression was used to correlate the probability of developing EL with BMI and epidural steroid injections.
Results: EL was centered at L5 and S1 segments. The average BMI for patients with EL was significantly greater than that of control group (36.0 ± 0.9 vs. 29.2 ± 0.9, p <0.01). The probability of developing EL with increasing BMI was linear up to the BMI of 35 after which it plateaued. Triglycerides were significantly higher for the EL group as compared to controls (250 ± 30 vs. 186 ± 21 mg/dL p < 0.01). The odds of having EL were 60% after two epidural steroid injections, 90% after three epidural steroid injections and approached 100% with further injections, independent of BMI. Other risk factors considered included alcohol abuse, use of protease inhibitors, levels of stress, hypothyroidism and genetic predisposition. However there were insufficient quantities to determine statistical significance with a degree of confidence. The impact of EL on patient’s symptoms correlated with EL severity with Spearman correlation coefficient of 0.73 at p < 0.01 significance level.
Conclusions: The BMI and triglycerides levels were found to be significantly elevated for the EL group, pointing to an increased risk of EL occurrence in progressively more obese US population. The data also revealed a strong correlation between the number of subsequent epidural steroid injections and EL occurrence calling for caution with the use of corticosteroids.