Elsberg syndrome: A rarely recognized cause of cauda equina syndrome and lower thoracic myelitis

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Abstract

Objective:

Elsberg syndrome (ES) is an established but often unrecognized cause of acute lumbosacral radiculitis with myelitis related to recent herpes virus infection. We defined ES, determined its frequency in patients with cauda equina syndrome (CES) with myelitis, and evaluated its clinical, radiologic, and microbiologic features and outcomes.

Methods:

We searched the Mayo Clinic medical records for ES and subsequently for combinations of index terms to identify patients with suspected CES and myelitis.

Results:

Our search yielded 30 patients, 2 diagnosed with ES and an additional 28 with clinical or radiologic evidence of CES retrospectively suspected of having ES. We classified patients in 5 groups according to diagnostic certainty. MRI and EMG confirmed that 2 had only myelitis, 5 only radiculitis, and 16 both. Two had preceding sacral herpes infection and 1 oral herpes simplex. Spinal cord lesions were commonly multiple, discontinuous, not expansile, and centrally or ventrally positioned. Lesions generally spared the distal conus. Nerve root enhancement was occasionally prominent and was smooth rather than nodular. Lymphocytic CSF pleocytosis was common. Thirteen patients (43%) had viral isolation studies, which were commonly delayed; the delay may have accounted for the low rate of viral detection. Acyclovir was administered to 6 patients. Most patients recovered with sequelae; 1 patient experienced encephalomyelitis and died.

Conclusion:

ES is a definable condition likely responsible for 10% of patients with combined CES and myelitis. Radiologic findings are not entirely specific but may help in differentiating ES from some competing diagnostic considerations. We propose criteria to facilitate diagnosis.

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