Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a debilitating condition that requires immediate medical intervention. Without prompt treatment, patients can suffer permanent paralysis, loss of motor control and nerve damage. This syndrome has symptoms that should be apparent to a medical professional, but sometimes doctors fail to diagnose it. When doctors fail to accurately diagnose and promptly treat CES, the patient can suffer lifelong debility that could have been avoided.
The attorneys at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer represent people who have suffered harm due to medical negligence, including failure to diagnose CES. If you or a loved one are suffering because of a failure to diagnose CES, contact our office to set up a free consultation. Our lawyers are available to answer your questions and to discuss options that may be available to you.
What is cauda equina syndrome?
Cauda equina syndrome is a rare condition that involves compression of the spinal nerve bundle in the lumbar region of the spine called the cauda equina. This portion of the spinal cord is responsible for sending and receiving messages between the brain and the pelvis, legs and feet. If the nerve roots become compressed or inflamed, patients can experience the following problems:
- Lower back pain
- Weakness in the lower extremities
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Diminished feeling in the feet, legs, anus, thighs, and buttocks
- Changed reflexes
- Sexual dysfunction with sudden onset
Symptoms vary from patient to patient, and may develop slowly, but a competent medical professional should be able to recognize when CES needs to be ruled out. Doctors caring for people who are bedridden or use wheelchairs must be particularly vigilant.
Causes of cauda equina syndrome
Severe herniation in a lumbar disc is the most common cause of CES. Other potential causes of this disorder include:
- Spinal lesion
- Spinal stenosis in the spinal canal
- Spinal fracture, infection, hemorrhage or inflammation
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Paget’s disease
- Narrowing of the spinal canal
- Severe trauma from a collision, fall or act of violence
- Congenital disorder
- Epidural hematoma causing nerve damage
- Lumbar spine subluxation
- Incorrectly placed screws in the spine
- Continuous spinal anesthesia
- Lumbar puncture
Symptoms of CES
Some of the common symptoms of CES include:
- Intense lower back pain
- Sciatica problems
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
- No ankle reflex on either ankle
- Trouble walking
- Muscle weakness and paralysis in the lower legs
- Urinary retention and incontinence
- Sexual dysfunction
Many of the symptoms of cauda equina syndrome mimic the symptoms of other conditions, so medical care professionals must be on the lookout.
Sometimes, doctors react too slowly to these symptoms. When this delay happens, the treatment, which usually involves surgery, may be too late to avoid permanent damage to the nerves. In this situation, the symptoms will become permanent, and the only option that the patient will have is to go through occupational and physical therapy. This therapy may be necessary to improve the patient’s ability to participate in daily activities and learn coping skills to increase independence.
How doctors treat CES
CES is usually treated with surgery to restore the functioning of the nerves before the condition causes irreversible damage, bowel and bladder incontinence, and permanent paralysis. Often, a doctor will recommend surgery within two days after the onset of the symptoms. Doctors may also prescribe high doses of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and antibiotics to treat infections.
If a tumor is causing the CES, doctors may recommend chemotherapy and radiation after the surgery. However, patients rarely regain full functioning of their nerves even when treatment is successful. They may continue to experience impaired functioning of their bowel and bladder for years.
To manage chronic CES when the surgery is unsuccessful, patients will have to learn to adapt to the changes that they experience in their bodily functions. They may need ongoing mental, physical, and emotional support from their families and professionals. Patients who have lost bladder and bowel function may have to empty their bladder four times each day manually. This process may require them to use urinary catheters, follow vigorous personal hygiene regimens to avoid UTIs, drink plenty of water, and use an enema or suppository to clear the bowels. They may also have to wear protective clothing and pads to prevent leaks.
What are the risks for CES?
Multiple risk factors exist for developing cauda equina syndrome. People who have the highest risk may have suffered disc herniations or had traumatic impacts on their lumbar spines during falls, collisions or other injuries.
Other factors that may contribute to the risk of developing CES:
- Men are more likely to suffer from CES
- People who are ages 35 and older are more prone to develop CES
- African-American people are less likely to develop CES
- People who often lift heavy objects are more likely to develop CES
Competent physicians can help people to prevent severe CES by identifying the symptoms and taking prompt measures to minimize the damage.
The National Institute of Health reports that 2% of patients who suffer from herniations of their lumbar discs will develop cauda equina syndrome. Among these patients, 70% will develop bladder dysfunction and chronic back pain. 20% of CES patients will end up with severe sexual dysfunctions, colostomy, gynecological surgery, self-catheterization, physio-social support, and spinal injury rehabilitation.
Medical malpractice and spinal anesthesia
CES can be a complication of receiving spinal anesthesia. One report indicated that spinal anesthesia administered through small gauge needles may be associated with cauda equina syndrome. Patients who complain of back pain after receiving spinal anesthesia should be taken seriously by their doctors. The physicians must try to rule out the development of CES and quickly intervene if CES is present.
Can you wait to file a claim?
You should not wait to investigate a potential claim for compensation when medical negligence may have caused your CES. These cases are subject to a statutory limitation period. If you fail to file a lawsuit before the limitation period expires, you will be barred from recovering damages for your losses.
The limitation period can begin on the date of the injury or the date that it was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered. Obtaining help from an experienced lawyer as soon after your injury as possible can help by providing a longer time to investigate your claim. Some exceptions to the statute of limitations of two years include victims deemed to be mentally incompetent and victims who are younger than the age of 18. Patients may also be able to file lawsuits outside of the statute of limitations when they did not discover that medical malpractice caused their injuries until after the negligence occurred.
Building medical malpractice claims
Cauda equina syndrome claims may be built against primary care doctors, emergency room doctors, therapists, hospitals and nurses. They include claims of negligence and medical malpractice. In most legal cases, the doctor’s failure to diagnose CES before it caused irreversible harm will be a primary issue.
A lawyer may work with medical experts to examine the medical records of the patient and to demonstrate to the jury that the medical professionals provided substandard care to the victim, leading to permanent injuries.
A lawyer may demonstrate that the doctor failed to identify the symptoms and to order tests that could have revealed the condition such as x-rays, MRIs, neurological testing, and electromyography. Delays in obtaining an accurate diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome can leave the victim suffering from lifelong discomfort and pain, bladder and bowel dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, paralysis, muscle weakness and other problems.
Philadelphia attorneys representing people in cauda equina syndrome claims
The attorneys at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer understand that a failure to diagnose CES in time can result in chronic problems that may impact the rest of your life. We fight for the rights of people who have suffered serious injuries because of medical negligence. We work hard to recover the compensation you need to pay for your medical bills, lost past income, loss of ability to earn future income, emotional trauma, pain, suffering and other damages.
By contacting one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys today, you can schedule a free consultation to learn about the merits of your potential claim. We use a contingency-fee-basis for representation. What this means is that you will not have to pay your attorney’s fees or costs until we have obtained a settlement or verdict on your behalf.
Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer understands that people who suffer from cauda equina syndrome may be left with staggering medical bills, income losses and emotional trauma. We believe that every person who has suffered worsened medical conditions because of the malpractice of medical professionals deserves proper compensation. Call our office today to schedule a free consultation at 800.535.1797, or you can fill out our contact form.
If you or a loved one has been critically injured do to someone else’s negligence, please click here to fill out the contact form, or call 1-800-535-1797 and someone from our team will be ready to help.
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