What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?
Cauda equina syndrome is an emergency condition characterized by persistent severe lower back pain caused by the compression of a bundle of spinal nerves (cauda equina) at the end of the spinal cord (lower back and hip region). If not treated promptly, it can lead to permanent paralysis of the legs, or bowel, bladder, and sexual problems.
Causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome
The compression of the cauda equina nerves may be caused by the narrowing or compression from ruptured intervertebral discs in the lower back, spinal injury, fracture, infection, inflammation or presence of a tumor. It is usually seen in adults, but may also occur in children with spinal birth defects.
Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome
Persistent severe low back pain may be accompanied by symptoms such as numbness in your inner thighs and buttocks, weakness or pain in the legs, loss of bowel and bladder control, and sexual dysfunction.
Diagnosis of Cauda Equina Syndrome
If you have any of the above symptoms, it is necessary to consult your doctor. A thorough history and physical examination are performed, and imaging studies such as a CT, MRI and a myelogram (spinal canal X-ray using contrast dye) are ordered to diagnose cauda equina syndrome.
Treatment of Cauda Equina Syndrome
Care should be instituted within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to prevent permanent damage. Surgery is required to remove structures (tumors or ruptured discs) compressing the cauda equina. Your doctor will prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation and antibiotics to treat infections.
Cauda equina syndrome may cause some permanent dysfunction despite treatment. Family cooperation and professional assistance may be sought to deal with individual necessities.