Causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) is a serious condition that requires emergency evaluation and surgery, and if left untreated, can lead to permanent disability, such as loss of bowel and bladder control and paralysis in one or both legs.

What Causes Cauda Equina Syndrome?

CES occurs when the nerves in the lower portion of the spinal canal are compressed. This compression can be due to many things, including herniated disks, tumors, inflammation, infection, or medical malpractice or negligence.

Commons causes of CES include:

  • Spinal stenosis
  • Trauma to the lumbar spine from a car accident, fall, or blow
  • Vertebral fracture
  • Epidural hematoma
  • Medical procedures such as a spinal tap, improperly positioned screws, or excessive spinal anesthesia

What Are the Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome?

It is critical when CES symptoms present to seek medical treatment as soon as possible because the longer the delay in treatment, the worse the outcome for recovery becomes.

Symptoms of CES include the following:

  • Low back pain
  • Sudden changes in or loss of bowel or bladder control  
  • Leg weakness or pain in one or both legs
  • Numbness in the groin and buttock area
  • Back and leg pain at night or while at rest
  • Sexual dysfunction

If you believe you have symptoms of CES, seek medical attention as soon as possible. The doctor will do a physical exam and go over your medical history and current symptoms. Symptoms of CES are common to other conditions, as well, which can make it difficult to diagnose.

How is Cauda Equina Syndrome Diagnosed & Treated?

Imaging studies can help to diagnose or rule out CES, including x-rays of the lower back to look for trauma and arthritis, and MRI’s with and without contrast to look for tumors, infection, herniated disks, and compression of nerve roots.

Research suggests that surgery should be performed to make more space for the nerves – a lumbar decompression – within 48 hours of the onset of CES symptoms for optimal recovery outcomes. Other treatment for CES symptoms includes antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Consequences If Cauda Equina is Misdiagnosed or Left Untreated

Whether caused by a medical error or other medical condition, CES should be identified and treated promptly or the symptoms could be permanent.

If left untreated, some of the permanent neurological complications include:

  • Paralysis of one or both legs
  • Foot drop
  • Bowel and Bladder Incontinence
  • Difficulty evacuating stool from colon requiring digital removal and/or special diets
  • Neurogenic bladder – overflow incontinence, frequency, urgency, retention issues
  • Permanent catheter
  • Risk of sepsis from the frequent catheterization
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Pain and numbness in groin, genital area, legs, and feet

If you or a family member have experienced symptoms of CES due to medical error or negligence, please give us a call at (816) 253-8606. Our team of medical malpractice lawyers in Kansas City are also licensed doctors who have over thirty years of experience fighting for those injured by medical negligence.


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Based on the latest government precautions, our team has moved to working remotely. If you need to get in touch, we’re still here to answer your questions via phone and email.

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