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Diagnosing Cauda Equina
Diagnosing Cauda Equina

Diagnosing Cauda Equina

If a patient presents with a combination of symptoms indicative of Cauda Equina, medical professionals should act fast to identify the condition and arrange treatment. Should a timely diagnosis of Cauda Equina fail to happen, a patient could be left with permanent neurological damage.

Signs and Symptoms of Cauda Equina

Cauda Equina is a rare condition. It is for this reason that medical staff need to be aware of all the correlating signs, from events in a patient's history that could have led to spinal compression, to all the varying symptoms.

As a problem that occurs when the lower part of the spine becomes compressed, it is possible for Cauda Equina to develop from various medical issues. Indeed, it could become a problem after an incident such as a slipped intervertebral disc or a traumatic spinal injury (eg. from a car crash), or arise due to an illness such as spinal stenosis, a tumour, or inflammatory condition.

Should a patient present with a history of any of the above, in addition to the symptoms of Cauda Equina, then medical staff should immediately become aware of the possibility of spinal compression. There are many symptoms that are particularly characteristic of Cauda Equina, which include the following:-

1. Back Pain

Patients with Cauda Equina usually first present with extreme back pain, and may also complain of a weakness in the legs or other neuromuscular symptoms.

2. Urinary Problems

Urinary difficulties are particularly typical as the spine continues to be compressed. Such problems will often involve the loss of desire to void, altered urethral sensation, feeling of retention or incomplete voiding.

3. Sexual/Rectal Problems

Sexual problems are another distinguishing feature of Cauda Equina. There may be a burning sensation in the genital region, with loss of erection in men and an inability to achieve orgasm in both sexes. More often than not a patient will experience perineal numbness, which in turn may lead to loss of rectal control.

Misdiagnosis of Cauda Equina

Cauda Equina is often misdiagnosed for two reasons: firstly because it is a rare condition many medical professionals will not have witnessed a case first-hand, and secondly because the initial symptoms can be easily mistaken for other more minor illnesses. It is highly possible that patients with Cauda Equina will be diagnosed as having an overactive bladder, simple lower tract urinary problems, or muscular injuries.

It is, therefore, a syndrome that can cause many difficulties in terms of diagnosis and management. If a doctor fails to recognise the combination of symptoms, however, this could have drastic consequences for the patient who could be left with permanent urinary and faecal incontinence, as well as erectile dysfunction in men.

Due to the possibility of serious complications, those with the signs and symptoms of Cauda Equina should have a neurological examination to ensure a swift diagnosed is not missed. This examination should focus on the level of a patient's sensation. An absence of sensation in regions such as the lower back and perineum (known as 'saddle anaesthesia') should immediately cause medical staff to arrange further tests, particularly an MRI, to confirm whether or not the patient has Cauda Equina.

Misdiagnosis of Cauda Equina and Medical Negligence

A quick diagnosis is crucial where Cauda Equina is concerned, as there is only a small window of opportunity in which treatment will be successful. If a patient has reached a critical stage with urinary retention and complete constipation, there is only 48 hours before these symptoms become irreversible. If treatment is delayed due to a wrong diagnosis, it is likely a patient will not make a full recovery.

If you have been affected by an incorrect diagnosis of Cauda Equina, you should seek legal advice without delay. Permanent neurological damages as a result of Cauda Equina are a common source of medical negligence claims, and often lead to compensation for the personal injuries a patient has sustained.

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