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Red flag signs of Cauda Equina Syndrome continue to be misinterpreted by health professionals

Posted: 27/04/2017

The Cauda Equina are the nerves located at the base of the spinal cord involved in lower limb sensation and pelvic function. Cauda Equina Syndrome is a neurological condition usually arising from a slipped disc in the spine which compresses these sensitive nerves. If the compression is not identified quickly and resolved (through surgery to remove the pressure), permanent damage can be caused leading to altered lower body sensation, problems with mobility, and bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction. The impact of these disabilities is often life-changing.

Cauda Equina Syndrome can develop very quickly and there is a short window of opportunity to treat it effectively. Therefore prompt medical action is vital. However, since it is relatively rare and often preceded by ‘routine’ back pain, it can be missed – with devastating consequences.

Symptoms which should prompt urgent action include loss of sensation in the lower limbs, numbness in the buttocks, loss of genital sensation and bladder and bowel problems. These are often referred to as ‘red flag’ symptoms that should alert medical practitioners that this could be a serious neurological problem caused by spinal cord compression, rather than just progressive back pain.

Lucie Prothero, a solicitor in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team who specialises in Cauda Equina Syndrome cases, commented: “We are continuing to receive enquiries and take on new cases where the rare but serious condition of Cauda Equina Syndrome is being missed, leading to catastrophic outcomes for our clients.

“While back pain is extremely common, there are times when the additional warning signs of possible Cauda Equina Syndrome are missed in patients who have a history of back pain. This can happen when patients attend their GPs at the primary care level, or in hospitals. It can lead to delayed diagnosis of the syndrome and delayed surgery to prevent permanent spinal cord compression. This compression can result in loss of bladder, bowel and sexual function, and loss of neurological function and sensation in the lower limbs and saddle area.

“For this reason, it is essential that if individuals start to develop symptoms, they seek urgent medical advice and that their concerns are taken seriously.”

For more information on Cauda Equina Syndrome and / or pursuing a legal claim for the management of Cauda Equina Syndrome, click here.

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