The cauda equine is a bundle of nerves located at the end of the spinal cord. This group of nerves is susceptible to injury and compression resulting in a condition called Cauda Equine Syndrome (CES) which can permanently damage lower body functions. CES may even result in paralysis.
When a patient presents in the emergency room with symptoms indicative of spinal cord compression, an assessment for CES is an absolute necessity. CES is a preventable condition. Measures must be taken right away to prevent irreversible damage. Spinal cord compression, caught by an MRI scan, requires immediate surgery to prevent permanent damage to bowel and bladder function. Delayed or missed diagnoses may result in permanent paralysis, rendering the patient a paraplegic.
Be aware of the symptoms of CES. Noticing these symptoms in yourself or someone you love may provide you with the window of time to seek preventative medical care. The presence of these symptoms requires assessment for CES symptoms. Insist on it.
- Severe pain in the back or buttocks, general pelvic area, even in the feet and legs
- Numbness or weakness in the same areas, including the genitals
- Sudden loss of bowel or bladder function
Four distinct questions can clue medical professionals in to the possibility that a patient is suffering from CES. Patients complaining of severe lower back pain should be asked:
- Are your bowels working properly?
- Can you urinate normally? Do you have the sensation of a full bladder?
- Have your buttocks or groin area become numb or developed any strange sensations?
- Are you experiencing any sexual dysfunction with sudden onset, or numbness in your genitals?
Affirmative answers to these questions should prompt further testing for CES by healthcare providers. Working within a certain window of time is essential to lessening the possible effects of spinal cord compression. CES can be caused by spinal stenosis, herniated discs, infectious diseases or tumors, as well as sudden trauma from a car accident or other injury. Gunshot wounds can also cause the spinal column to narrow on the spinal cord and thus cause CES.
CES is a condition that must be caught early by alert medical professionals.
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