Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome is a severe neurologic disorder that usually is associated with a herniated disc in the lower, or lumbar, region of the back. Cauda equina is Latin for “horse’s tail”. The cauda equina is the sack of nerve roots at the end of the spinal cord. The individual nerve roots at the end of the spinal cord provide motor and sensory function to the legs, the bladder and the bowel.

Cauda equina syndrome most commonly results from a disc herniation in the lower back. When the herniation occurs, the center portion of the disc pushes out and causes pressure on the nerve roots in the lumbar spine. Cauda equina syndrome is caused by excessive and prolonged compression by a disc on the nerve roots.

Cauda equina is a medical emergency and can lead to permanent incontinence and paralysis. When the signs and symptoms of an impending cauda equina syndrome are recognized, the patient must be referred immediately to a neurosurgeon. The treatment for cauda equina syndrome is surgery to move the disc off the nerve roots. Some of the common signs and symptoms of an impending cauda equina syndrome includes severe low back pain, urinary or bowel dysfunction, motor weakness, sensory loss in both legs, and saddle anesthesia, which is the inability to feel anything in the body areas that would sit on the saddle; namely, the pelvic area.

It is the responsibility of the physician to recognize the signs and symptoms of cauda equina syndrome, especially in those patients who may have suffered injuries to the lower back.

In addition to obtaining a detailed history, a careful and safe physician will perform an extensive motor examination, which may include having the patient walk, assessing the sensory function of the lower extremities, and testing the reflexes of the knees and ankles.

Since cauda equina syndrome may result in sensory loss to the bowel and bladder, the careful and safe physician will always test these functions to rule in or rule out cauda equina syndrome.

The Law Firm of Dugan, Babij, Tolley & Kohler, LLC has extensive experience in representing families whose loved ones have been grievously injured or died as a result of medical malpractice associated with cauda equina syndrome.

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