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Cauda Equina Syndrome and Decompression Surgery

In the majority of cases, Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) will require urgent decompression surgery. This must be carried out without delay; otherwise a patient will be left with permanent health complications.

Treating Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda Equina Syndrome is when the nerves at the bottom of the spinal canal become compressed. There are many ways in which this can happen, although the condition can often be attributed to a traumatic accident, a herniated disc, an inflammatory disease or a tumour. Whatever the cause, it is absolutely vital medical intervention is provided as quickly as possible. Indeed, CES is considered to be a medical emergency, meaning a patient must undergo immediate treatment if normal function is to be regained.

The exact course of treatment will largely depend upon the underlying cause. For example, if a tumour is present, a patient will require further assessment before a cancer care plan is devised. However, before that happens, the primary concern is to relieve the pressure upon the nerves. This is because the longer the compression continues, the greater the damage will be. It is therefore a matter of urgency that decompression surgery is performed.

What does decompression surgery involve?

Decompression surgery aims to remove those structures responsible for nerve compression. Imaging tests such as an MRI scan should be arranged beforehand to help determine the exact nature of the problem. A qualified neurosurgeon should then perform the operation, taking care to alleviate the pressure being placed upon the nerves. Again, the procedure will be carried out according to the underlying cause. So if a patient has a herniated disc, the rupture must be removed in order to create space for the nerves in the spinal canal.

When should decompression surgery be performed?

Because Cauda Equina Syndrome is considered to be a medical emergency, decompression surgery must be performed at the earliest possible opportunity. There is some debate amongst experts, although it is generally accepted that surgery should be carried out within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Any longer than this and the outcome will be much less favourable as the nerves will already have suffered irreparable damage.

Does a delay in surgery amount to medical negligence?

If nerve damage is permanent, a patient will sadly be left with a series of serious long-term complications. These commonly include poor urinary and rectal function, sexual dysfunction and lasting pain.

However, what happens if these injuries occur as a result of medical error? For example, medical professionals may fail to make a timely diagnosis, fail to arrange further tests, fail to accurately analyse diagnostic tests or fail to arrange emergency surgery. If any of these things do happen, then medical care can be said to have fallen to a substandard level. A patient will therefore be a victim of medical negligence and will be entitled to claim compensation for the damage caused.

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