The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1752-1947-5-537) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The author declares that they have no competing interests.
Low back pain with unilateral or bilateral radicular pain is mainly caused by protrusions of the intervertebral disc tissue that come into contact with the spinal nerves. Sometimes neurological deficiencies, in the form of paresis or bladder and rectal dysfunction, may also occur. The diagnosis in most cases can be made via computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The impingement on nervous tissue by spinal epidural varices has only rarely been described in the literature [1–4]. Despite the use of modern imaging methods (such as MRI, myelography and CT), it can still often be difficult to distinguish the diagnosis of epidural varicosis from other causes. Epidural varicosis often masquerades as a herniated nucleus pulposus, and the definitive diagnosis is usually made on operation.
We present the case of a 48-year-old Caucasian woman who was treated under a tentative diagnosis of a multisegmental lumbar disc protrusion for some years. After a diagnosis of inferior vena cava hypoplasia and updated diagnostic imaging, a diagnosis of epidural varicosis was finally made. The diagnosis, pathophysiology and treatment of this condition are discussed.
We present the case of a 48-year-old Caucasian woman who had been experiencing sciatic pain for seven years. Her symptoms varied in intensity, and intermittent ambulant medical treatment was administered. When her symptoms increased, with the onset of sciatica radiating from the fifth lumbar nerve root on the right side, an MRI scan of her spine was performed and an intensification of conservative therapeutic methods under stationary conditions was planned. The MRI results (0.5T) were interpreted as a prolapse of the L4/L5 lumbar intervertebral disc, abutting the L5 thecal sac and nerve root, causing the pain in her leg.
Conservative treatment with a series of periradicular infiltrations (including bupivacaine and triamcinolone) in combination with physical therapy resulted in a decrease in her symptoms and our patient was discharged. Subsequently, she underwent an elective hysterectomy due to endometriosis. During this surgery, unusually pronounced varicosis was found in her lesser pelvis that had not previously been detected. Postoperatively, our patient developed a symptomatic pulmonary embolism. Consequently, further evaluation of adjacent structures and diagnostic tests for thrombophilia were initiated. The pulmonary embolism was found to be caused by hypoplasia of her inferior vena cava, with a bilateral occlusion of her vena iliaca communis. A diagnostic evaluation showed that a collateral pathway with ectatic enlargement of the veins of her lesser pelvis had also developed. Anticoagulant medication in combination with compression therapy was recommended because a surgical correction of this malformation was not possible.
Subsequently, our patient was again admitted to our hospital because of an exacerbation of the nerve root irritation. She had classic root tension signs (straight leg raise and bow string tests). In addition, a greater level of pain was experienced with increased intra-abdominal pressure (when, for example, coughing, sneezing or pushing). More severe neurological deficiencies, in the form of paresis or bladder and rectal dysfunction, were not found. She was by this time severely incapacitated and bedridden.
Bearing in mind the hypoplasia of her inferior vena cava, a repeat MRI scan (1.5T) was performed. The MRI results, in conjunction with our patient's history, were considered by the radiologist to be indicative of epidural varicosis. No further pathological abnormalities that could cause the nerve root pain were found (Figure 1).
According to our vascular surgeons, no surgical correction for the hypoplasia of her inferior vena cava was possible because it was a congenital defect. The optimal therapy to manage the progressive pain symptoms of our patient was then considered. Due to the increased risk of bleeding, the consideration of surgical intervention was abandoned and she was treated with peripheral analgesics in combination with low-dose pregabalin, with satisfactory results. In addition, compression therapy (class II) combined with Marcoumar (phenprocoumon) was carried out, which led to an acceptable decrease in her symptoms (target international normalized ratio; 2.0 to 3.0).
To date, our patient still complains of sciatic pain on her right side, but is able to work while on intermittent pain medication.
MRI is an important tool in the diagnosis of radicular complaints. A review of the recent literature and the case of our patient shows that the presence of epidural varicosis, without also being aware of a vascular abnormality, can easily be misinterpreted as being herniated disc tissue . Thrombosed veins appear hyperintense on T1-weighted and T2-weighted images. Depending on the degree of thrombosis, an epidural vein on T2-weighted images may appear hypodense and hyperintense. Therefore epidural varicosis is often misinterpreted as herniated lumbar discs [6, 7].
In the literature, several pathophysiological models for the formation of venous epidural vascular anomalies are discussed. Gümbel et al. postulated the possibility of primary epidural varicose veins without any underlying or extra intraspinal pathology . Wong et al. suggested that varicose veins are due to the epidural mechanical compression of the venous plexus by disc herniations, spondylolisthesis or spinal stenosis . Through venous stasis, an epidural vein thrombosis may occur over time with subsequent irritation of nerve structures.
Epidural varicosis as a result of an obstruction of the inferior vena cava has frequently been described in the literature. When an obstruction and/or occlusion of the inferior vena cava and vena iliaca communis is present, there is increased blood flow into the azygos and hemiazygos veins. Expansion of the epidural venous plexus, with potential compression of the neuronal structures, also occurs. Treatment with anticoagulant medication in combination with compression therapy, as in the case of our patient, is usually sufficient .
In the literature, the alternative possibilities of thrombolysis and surgical intervention have been described. However, the results of thrombolysis are not convincing, so it is rarely used . Genevay et al.  consider that surgical treatment of an epidural varix is obligatory, but only if a neurological symptom is present. With respect to the nature of the surgery, different approaches exist. Reports on surgical thermocoagulation of the venous plexus [2, 9–12], interventional techniques  or surgical compression of the venous plexus with a resorbable gelatin sponge  have been reported. In most cases, this leads to a good surgical result with significant reduction of the symptoms . In cases of severe epidural varicosis due to a faulty inferior vena cava and dilation of all lumbar veins, the advice is against surgical intervention. This is based on unsatisfactory surgical results  and disproportional surgical risk .
Epidural varicosis with irritation of nerve structures observed on MRI should direct attention to the possibility of an inferior vena cava thrombosis or compression. In such cases, an MRI scan of the region around the inferior vena cava should be performed.
It is proposed that epidural varicosis due to inferior vena cava pathology can cause radicular pain. Knowledge of the existence of such a condition and its possible etiologies may assist in its recognition and improve clinical management of affected patients.
In cases of epidural varicosis with irritation of neuronal structures that develop due to hypoplasia of the inferior vena cava, surgical intervention gives unsatisfactory results . In contrast, interventions that resolve the cause of the pathology in the inferior vena cava lead to significantly better results .
This is not always possible where there is hypoplasia and/or aplasia of the inferior vena cava, so, as in our patient's case, only symptomatic therapy in combination with anticoagulation and compression therapy is possible.
Written informed consent was obtained from the patient for publication of this case report and any accompanying images. A copy of the written consent is available for review by the Editor-in-Chief of this journal.
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The author declares that they have no competing interests.
Authors’ original file for figure 113256_2011_1890_MOESM1_ESM.pdf
Dudeck O, Zeile M, Poellinger A, Kluhs L, Ludwig WD, Hamm B: Epidural venous enlargements presenting with intractable lower back pain and sciatica in a patient with absence of the infrarenal inferior vena cava and bilateral deep venous thrombosis. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2007, 32: E688-E691. 10.1097/BRS.0b013e318158cf94. CrossRef
Hanley EN, Howard BH, Brigham CD, Chapman TM, Guilford WB, Coumas JM: Lumbar epidural varix as a cause of radiculopathy. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1994, 19: 2122-2126. 10.1097/00007632-199409150-00022. CrossRef
Yücesoy K, Acar M, Koyuncuoglu M: Acute foot drop caused by thrombosed epidural vein. Acta Neurochir (Wien). 2001, 143: 631-632. 10.1007/s007010170070. CrossRef
Hammer A, Knight I, Agarwal A: Localized venous plexi in the spine simulating prolapse of an intervertebral disc. A report of six cases. Spine. 2003, 1: E5-E12. CrossRef
Wong CH, Thng PL, Thoo FL, Low CO: Symptomatic spinal epidural varices presenting with nerve impingement: report of two cases and review of the literature. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2003, 28: E347-E350. 10.1097/01.BRS.0000090500.10184.7A. CrossRef
Paksoy Y, Gormus N: Epidural venous plexus enlargements presenting with radiculopathy and back pain in patients with inferior vena cava obstruction or occlusion. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2004, 29: 2419-2424. 10.1097/01.brs.0000144354.36449.2f. CrossRef
Moonis G, Hurst RW, Simon SL, Zager EL: Intradural venous varix: a rare cause of an intradural lumbar spine lesion. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2003, 28: E430-E432. 10.1097/01.BRS.0000085359.59829.44. CrossRef
- Epidural varicosis as a possible cause of radicular pain: a case report
- BioMed Central