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Cauda Equina Syndrome

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What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Cauda Equina Syndrome is a condition which occurs when the nerves at the lower end of the spinal cord are squeezed together or compressed. It is so-named because where the nerves fan out into a bundle of fibres at the base of the spine it looks like a horse’s tail (‘Cauda Equina’ being latin for ‘horse tail’).


The cause of the compression can result from a number of injuries or conditions such as spinal tumours, disc herniation (i.e. slipped, ruptured or bulging lumbar disc), or as a consequence of lower back surgery. Of particular concern is disc herniation, as this can occur quite suddenly (particularly in younger people). However, symptoms may develop over time and in older people it can be construed as just part of the aging process.

Cauda Equina syndrome requires emergency hospital admission and emergency surgery, as the longer it goes untreated the greater the chance it could lead to permanent paralysis and incontinence. It is generally accepted that there is a 48-hour window (although some clinicians would even go so far as to say a 24-hour window) from the onset of Cauda Equina symptoms for surgical decompression to take place in order to have a reasonable chance of reversal. In practice it is not as simple as this and as a result, despite it being considered a rare condition, this syndrome is one of the major causes of litigation in the NHS (for both primary and secondary care).

There are a number of ‘red flag’ symptoms for Cauda Equina Syndrome which can include:

  • Altered bladder and bowel function (i.e. unable to void bladder or bowels, or unable to control when you do void bladder or bowels).
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Numbness in the saddle area, legs or perineal area
  • Severe lower back pain
  • Motor weakness, sensory loss or pain in one or both legs
  • Sensory abnormalities in the bladder or rectum
  • A loss of reflexes in the extremities
  • Acute or chronic radiating pain

Seek immediate medical attention

If you suspect that you, or someone close to you, may have Cauda Equina Syndrome, please seek urgent medical attention by calling 999 or attending A&E immediately. Cauda Equina Syndrome can be diagnosed through an emergency MRI scan and early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to enabling reversal of the symptoms of the syndrome.

As Cauda Equina Syndrome can cause permanent and life altering damage very quickly, it is vital that medical professionals diagnose and treat a patient in a prompt manner.

Talk to our specialists

If your Cauda Equina Syndrome was misdiagnosed or diagnosed later than it should have been, you may have a claim for clinical/medical negligence.

Our specialist medical negligence team have experience in dealing with cases of cauda equine syndrome. We can support you through the claim and enable you to achieve the justice that you deserve. There are a number of scenarios in which you may have a claim, including:

  • Missed or late diagnosis
  • Mistreatment
  • A delay in appropriate treatment
  • Mistreatment of complications arising post-operation
  • Inadequate or negligent surgery


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