Cauda equina syndrome is a serious spinal condition that shares many symptoms with other less critical conditions, like a herniated disc. Unlike a typical herniated disc which causes back and neck pain, however, cauda equina syndrome can result in the loss of bowel and bladder control and even permanent paralysis of the legs, making it extremely critical that the condition is treated immediately.
Cauda equina syndrome is caused when cauda equina nerve roots – a bundle of nerves that extend off the bottom of the spinal cord in the lower back – become compressed. Compression of the cauda equina (which means “horse tail” in Latin) can be caused a variety of ways such as a lumbar herniated disc, complications stemming from a traumatic injury, spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal column), or even the presence of a spinal tumor.
The difficulty in diagnosing this syndrome often comes in recognizing the difference between a typical herniated disc and cauda equina syndrome. Where a herniated back disc can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness, symptoms of cauda equina syndrome can include more extreme disturbances, including:
- Bladder and/or bowel disruption and incontinence
- The inability to urinate
- Numbness in the pelvic and groin areas
- Muscle weakness or loss of mobility and reflex in the legs
- Deep pain in the lower back or extremities
Regardless of the cause of the condition, it is of the utmost importance that cauda equina syndrome is treated immediately. If you are experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room. Correctly diagnosing this condition requires a careful review of medical history, a physical examination, and the use of medical imagery technology such as an MRI or CT scan. Failure to address the syndrome will have a lasting impact on your life, but with timely surgery the long-term prognosis can be extremely positive.
For more information about the possible effects of a herniated disc, contact the award-winning staff at Laser Spine Institute (LSI) for a free MRI or CT scan review. If you believe you are suffering from cauda equina syndrome, however, an immediate visit to the emergency room is necessary.