Cauda Equina Syndrome: Symptoms and Treatment
Doctors consider cauda equina syndrome a medical emergency. They should perform surgical intervention as soon as possible to avoid sequelae. It’s a very rare syndrome as occurs in 1 in 33,000 to 100,000 people.
According to information published in Formación Médica Continuada en Atención Primaria (FMC), one of its usual causes is herniated discs. To fully explain how it occurs, we must first see what it consists of and how it’s treated.
What is cauda equina syndrome?
This is a very rare but serious neurological condition that affects the group of nerve roots at the end of the spinal cord.
It’s so rare, however, that there are general practitioners who don’t see a cauda equina syndrome in their entire careers. Specifically, it occurs when the nerves at the end of the spinal cord become compressed, compromising sphincter control and causing other problems.
It’s considered a medical emergency that should be surgically intervened as soon as possible to avoid irreversible sequelae, such as:
- Bladder problems
- Not being able to control urination or defecation
- Difficulty walking
Also read: Exercises for Scoliosis of the Spine
But what is the cauda equina?
The cauda equina is what we call the nerves at the end of the spinal cord, which runs through the lumbar spine and sacrum, down to the legs. It consists of 10 pairs of nerves:
- L2 to L5
- The 5 pairs of sacral nerves
- The coccygeal nerve
The cauda equina is responsible for muscles, skin sensation in the pelvis and legs, as well as bladder and bowel function. Cauda equina is Latin for horsetail.
Although these symptoms aren’t exclusive to cauda equina syndrome, they’re medical emergencies:
- Severe low back pain
- Alterations in sensation in the genital area
- Bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction
Early medical attention and treatment are crucial to achieving a full recovery as soon as possible. Symptoms are also classified according to their mode of onset:
Symptoms develop rapidly and include:
- Severe low back pain
- Significant loss of bladder and bowel function
- Deficits in motor control and waist down sensation usually occur within 24 hours
Symptoms develop progressively and may come and go over the course of weeks or months. The most common are:
- Partial or intermittent loss of bladder and bowel function.
- Numbness or altered sensation in and around the genital area
- Recurrent low back pain
- Muscle weakness
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Initial treatment is surgical, and doctors should preferably perform it 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms (in the sudden case) to maximize improvement of the sensory and motor deficit.
Prognosis and recovery depend on a variety of factors, such as how quickly the nerve is decompressed and the degree of nerve damage at the time of surgery.
I have low back pain: could I have cauda equina syndrome?
Having low back pain is extremely common and isn’t indicative of cauda equina syndrome in itself. In conclusion, for doctors to suspect CES, there must also be bladder or bowel symptoms present as mentioned in the previous sections.
When in doubt, see your primary care physician.It might interest you...