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False Positive MRI Scans For Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome can only be diagnosed with an MRI scan. However, it is possible that this will lead to a false positive result.

Diagnosing cauda equina syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is when the nerves at the base of the spine are compressed. This will result in a number of symptoms which should prompt medical practitioners to suspect cauda equina compression. To confirm or exclude this suspected diagnosis, an MRI scan must be carried out. This is the only way to diagnose the condition.

False positive tests

Nevertheless, it is possible that a patient with suspected cauda equina syndrome will experience a false positive test result. This means that the results of the MRI scan lead medical practitioners to believe that a patient does have cauda equina syndrome, when in actual fact he/she does not have the condition at all. Consequently a patient is wrongly diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome.

False positive tests happen quite frequently with cauda equina syndrome because it is a difficult condition to diagnose. The image may show the nerves are being compressed, when the reality is that they are not. Experts suggest that MRI scans for cauda equina syndrome are associated with a 43% false positive rate.

Reluctance to perform MRI scans

Along with the high rate of false positive results, experts also suggest that around 75% of suspected CES patients have a negative MRI scan. Therefore two thirds of patients referred for an MRI do not have cauda equina syndrome, but a different condition altogether.

For both of these reasons, radiology departments have become reluctant to carry out emergency scans for suspected CES. Emergency MRI scans must be performed within 24 hours of a referral being made.

Due to the short timeframe, radiology departments are under pressure to complete emergency MRI scans. This means conditions with a high false positive rate and a high negative rate are met with resistance, as radiologists view it as a waste of time to perform emergency scans on patients who do not actually have a medical emergency.

MRI scan delay

However, if a patient does indeed have cauda equina syndrome, a delay in diagnosis will prove devastating. The nerves must be decompressed within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms or permanent complications will occur. If a radiologist delays the MRI scan, a patient’s diagnosis will also be delayed, as will the urgent treatment he/she so desperately needs.

If you have suffered cauda equina complications because an MRI scan was not performed in a timely fashion, you could be entitled to pursue a claim for compensation. Contact us to find out more.

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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