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Cauda Equina Syndrome: When To Seek Help

Cauda equina syndrome must be treated with 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Therefore you must seek medical help as soon as you develop the red flag symptoms of cauda equina compression.

Red flags of cauda equina compression

Cauda equina syndrome is associated with certain symptoms, known collectively as the ‘red flag symptoms’. These happen when the cauda equina nerves at the base of the spine are compressed by something such as a slipped disc or tumour. The symptoms arise because the nerves are damaged by the compression, causing them to lose function. This in turn will result in neurological symptoms such as:

When these symptoms appear together, they are a warning sign that the cauda equina nerves are being compressed and injured. Immediate action must be taken to decompress them, preventing any further damage.

When to seek help

Therefore you must seek help as soon as you experience: bladder dysfunction, sciatic-like pain, numbness in your saddle area (which includes your perineum, buttocks and legs).

You should bypass your GP and go straight to Accident and Emergency and ask to be seen by a doctor.

Once in hospital, the doctor must carry out a neurological examination and test to rule out other conditions. This should include blood and urine tests. Afterwards you should be sent for an emergency MRI scan, as this is the only way to verify whether the nerves are being compressed.

What will happen next?

If you are diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome, you will undergo emergency decompression surgery. This must be performed immediately, as it is widely accepted that cauda equina syndrome must be treated within 48 hours of the onset of the red flag symptoms.

What happens if there is a delay?

If there is a delay in treatment, the nerves could be irreparably damaged. If this delay occurs due to medical error – for example, you are discharged from hospital with a misdiagnosis, or surgery is not performed on an emergency basis – you could be considered the innocent victim of medical negligence.

To talk to a solicitor about cauda equina syndrome and medical negligence, please contact us today.

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