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Degenerative Disc Disease and Cauda Equina Syndrome

Degenerative disc disease can lead to cauda equina syndrome, a rare neurological condition. In this article we explore how this happens and what medical professionals must do.

What is degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative disc disease is a term used to describe the gradual deterioration of the spinal discs. It is a problem associated with the ageing process and is most common amongst people over the age of 40. It is possible for the condition to affect people under the age of 40, although in such cases it is likely to be caused by genetic/other health factors.

The exact cause of degenerative disc disease is not known. Most experts suggest that in elderly patients, the deterioration of the vertebral discs is caused by general wear and tear. Indeed, the discs are put under a lot of pressure and often sustain small, unnoticed injuries. Eventually the vertebral discs will begin to break down.

In younger patients there are number of possible causes, including genetic and environmental factors, and infection and inflammation.

How does degenerative disc disease cause CES?

Degenerative disc disease can lead to a slipped disc. This is because the vertebral discs are weakened, making it much more likely that the circle of connective tissue surrounding the disc will break down. If the tissue does rupture, the gel-like substance inside will protrude through the gap, pressing upon the spinal cord. This is known as a slipped disc (also called a prolapsed disc or a herniated disc).

A slipped disc can be very painful, although cauda equina syndrome will only arise if the slipped disc occurs in the lower back. This is because the disc will protrude onto the cauda equina nerves which are located at the bottom of the spinal cord. This compression will damage the nerves, causing them to lose function.

The cauda equina nerves enable function and sensation in the lower limbs, genitalia and pelvic organs. An injury will therefore result in symptoms such as saddle anaesthesia, urinary retention and incontinence. When these symptoms appear due to cauda equina nerve compression, a patient is said to have cauda equina syndrome.

Treating cauda equina syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome is a neurological emergency that requires an immediate referral to hospital and urgent decompression surgery. If medical professionals fail to treat cauda equina syndrome urgently – for example, because there was a delay in diagnosis – there will be grounds for a medical negligence claim.

To find out more about claiming for cauda equina syndrome, get in touch with us at the Cauda Equina Solicitors.

Please call us free on 0800 234 3300, from a mobile click to call 01275 334030 or complete our Free Online Enquiry for a no cost, no obligation opinion.

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