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Is Cauda Equina Syndrome A Rare Condition?

Cauda equina syndrome is often dubbed a ‘rare’ condition. But just how rare is it? Is it so unusual that medical professionals within the UK would be unable to make a diagnosis?

Cauda equina syndrome – a rare condition

Cauda equina syndrome is when the cauda equina nerves located at the base of the spine become compressed. This is ordinarily due to a large central disc prolapse, but may also be caused by spinal stenosis, tumours, traumatic injury and infection.

Experts suggest that around 2% to 5% of disc prolapses will result in cauda equina syndrome. It is also predicted that a general practitioner will only see one case of cauda equina syndrome due to a slipped disc during the course of his/her career.

Difficulties in making a diagnosis

The rarity of the condition does pose problems in terms of a diagnosis. Indeed, medical professionals may not be familiar with cauda equina syndrome, and will therefore be unable to recognise the signs that indicate spinal nerve compression.

In particular, there are four points which cause confusion for doctors:-

  1. Lower back pain with urinary dysfunction is very common and is not ordinarily caused by cauda equina compression
  2. The presence of unilateral sciatica (sciatica on one side) with loss of sensation in the saddle area is a sign of cauda equina compression
  3. Cauda equina syndrome is characterised by back pain, but most importantly this is accompanied by the loss of sensation in saddle area, and bladder/bowel dysfunction.
  4. Cauda equina syndrome can either be sudden in onset, or develop gradually over time.

Delay in diagnosis

However, just because cauda equina syndrome is rare does not mean that medical professionals can be excused when they fail to make a diagnosis. Doctors within the UK should be competent enough to recognise the signs and symptoms of spinal nerve compression and manage a patient accordingly. This should include ordering an urgent MRI scan to confirm/exclude the presence of cauda equina syndrome.

This means that a delay in diagnosis due to medical error will be deemed unacceptable. If this causes a patient to suffer unnecessary complications – such as long-term neurological problems – there will be grounds for a medical negligence compensation claim.

Making a claim

If you would like to know more about claiming compensation for medical negligence, please get in touch with us today. We specialise in cauda equina claims and will be able to suggest whether you have been wrongfully harmed.

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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