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Cauda Equina Syndrome – A Spinal Emergency

Cauda equina syndrome is considered by medical professionals to be a spinal emergency. This means surgery must be carried out by an experienced orthopaedic surgeon without delay if complications are to be avoided.

Why is cauda equina syndrome a spinal emergency?

Cauda equina syndrome is a rare neurological condition. It occurs when something compresses the cauda equina nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord. Normally this will be a vertebral disc that has slipped and is pressing upon the nerves. Other causes include a spinal tumour, an inflammatory disease and an infection.

Whatever the underlying cause is, the effect of spinal nerve compression will always be dangerous. This is because the nerves are extremely sensitive and will quickly become damaged if any pressure is placed upon them.

Therefore the compression must be alleviated as quickly as possible or the nerve injury will become increasingly extensive. Within a very short space of time this injury will be so severe that the nerves cannot be repaired, even if surgical decompression is subsequently performed. This will result in permanent neurological complications for the individual concerned, including:-

However, these terrible complications can be avoided if treatment is performed in the early stages, before the nerves become irreparably harmed.

How should cauda equina syndrome be treated?

Cauda equina syndrome should be treated with urgent decompression surgery. This procedure should be carried out by an experienced surgeon with the necessary skill and expertise.

No time should be wasted in performing this operation as there is only a small window of opportunity in which to successfully treat cauda equina syndrome. The amount of time available will vary from person to person, but generally speaking the condition must be diagnosed and treated within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Failure to treat cauda equina syndrome as an emergency

Unfortunately, however, medical professionals do not always treat cauda equina syndrome in a timely fashion. Often this is because the condition is mistaken for another illness. This misdiagnosis will prove devastating, as it is only when a patient’s symptoms become increasingly severe will the correct condition be diagnosed. By this stage it is often too late for any treatment to be effective. On other occasions medical professionals simply do not appreciate the fact that cauda equina syndrome is a spinal emergency and delay the diagnostic tests and surgical procedure.

Either way, if medical practitioners fail to treat cauda equina syndrome promptly, causing a patient to suffer complications, there will be grounds for a compensation claim.

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