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Postoperative Cauda Equina Syndrome

cauda-equinaCauda equina syndrome can arise as a post-operative complication. If a patient does develop cauda equina syndrome after having surgery, the problem must be quickly diagnosed and treated.

How does postoperative cauda equina syndrome happen?

Cauda equina syndrome is when something presses upon the cauda equina nerves located at the base of the spine. Compression damages the nerves, resulting in the loss of function.

Cauda equina syndrome can happen in many different ways, including as a post-operative complication. For example, postoperative CES might arise because of:

Diagnosing postoperative cauda equina syndrome

The first step towards making a diagnosis is to recognise the red flag symptoms of cauda equina syndrome. These include urinary dysfunction with retention, loss of sensation around the perineum, buttocks and genitals, and back/leg pain.

If a patient has undergone spinal surgery or has had an epidural and develops these symptoms shortly afterwards, medical practitioners should immediately suspect cauda equina syndrome. An MRI scan will help determine whether the nerves are being compressed.

Once diagnosed, cauda equina syndrome must be treated with urgent surgical decompression. The patient may feel upset that another operation is needed, but surgery is vital to avoid permanent complications.

Is postoperative cauda equina syndrome negligent?

When a patient develops cauda equina syndrome postoperatively, does it mean there has been a case of surgical negligence?

All surgical procedures, particularly spinal surgery, carry risks. A patient will be warned of these before signing the consent form. In many cases the complication will be not be the fault of the surgical team; rather it is an unfortunate but accepted risk of surgery.

However, there are occasions when poor surgical technique directly contributes to a cauda equina injury. If so, there may be grounds for a medical negligence claim. A solicitor will be able to advise you further.

Delay in treatment

There may also be grounds for a claim if a patient develops postoperative CES for non-negligent reasons, but medical practitioners fail to diagnose and treat the problem. Consequently the nerves become severely harmed. Once the problem is finally identified, treatment proves to be ineffective. The patient will then be left with long-term neurological dysfunction.

Expert legal advice

If there is a delay in the diagnosis and treatment of your cauda equina syndrome, or your condition was caused by surgical incompetence, you need to talk to a lawyer.

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