Catheter-tip mass mimicking a spinal epidural hematoma: Case report

Ricky Medel, Nader Pouratian, W. Jeffrey Elias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


As > 95,000 spinal drug-delivery devices have been implanted since their inception in the 1980s, the recognition of associated adverse effects is essential. Since 1985, numerous reports have described the presence of catheter-tip granulomas. In the current case, the authors describe a less frequent complication of epidural bupivacaine precipitation. Regardless of origin, these unusual lesions have been increasingly recognized as a rare but potentially devastating complication of intrathecal infusions. A 34-year-old woman with an intrathecal pain-pump delivering fentanyl, bupivacaine, and clonidine for thoracic outlet syndrome presented with rapidly progressive neurological deficits and increasing neck and upper-extremity pain. Neuroimaging disclosed a C7-T1 mass that was thought to be a hematoma that occurred after a recent epidural steroid injection. On emergency surgical decompression by laminectomy, a chalky mass containing viscous fluid was identified surrounding an epidurally located catheter. Histopathological examination revealed a proteinaceous mass consistent with drug precipitate enveloped by fibrosis and mild inflammation. Postoperatively, the patient recovered with minimal neurological deficit. The presentation and clinical relevance are discussed in conjunction with a review of the pertinent literature. Catheter-tip masses are a rare complication of implantable drug-delivery devices occurring in < 3% of all patients with intrathecal catheters. Regardless of the anatomical site, the most common presenting features are neurological deficits, worsening pain, and increasing requirements for pain medication. Expedient diagnosis and management are essential for physicians treating patients with spinal infusion devices to prevent significant neurological sequelae. Further investigation is warranted regarding the use of bupivacaine as an adjunct in permanent spinal infusion systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-71
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Bupivacaine
  • Epidural analgesia
  • Granuloma
  • Intrathecal catheter
  • Pain pump

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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