Of the many degenerative spine conditions that patients can develop, the most serious might be cauda equina syndrome. In many cases, this life-threatening condition shares many symptoms with other less-critical conditions, such as sciatica. However, unlike typical sciatica – which is characterized by chronic lower back pain — cauda equina syndrome can result in the loss of bowel and bladder control and even permanent paralysis of the legs. This means it should be treated immediately by a physician.
Cauda equina syndrome is caused when the nerve roots 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, including a lumbar herniated disc, complications stemming from a traumatic injury, spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal column) or a spinal tumor.
Recognizing the difference between a typical herniated disc and cauda equina syndrome presents a number of difficulties. Where a herniated back disc can cause pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness, symptoms of the syndrome can include more extreme problems, including:
- The inability to urinate
- Bladder and/or bowel disruption and incontinence
- Numbness in the pelvic and groin areas
- Muscle weakness or loss of mobility and reflex in the legs
- Severe sciatica
- Deep pain in the lower back or extremities
No matter what the cause of cauda equina compression, it is of the utmost importance that cauda equina syndrome is treated immediately. If you are experiencing the above symptoms, visit a physician immediately or go to the emergency room. Correctly diagnosing this condition requires a physician to carefully review your medical history, perform a physical examination and possibly use medical imagery taken by 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 promising.
For more information about the possible effects of sciatica, contact the award-winning staff at Laser Spine Institute for a complimentary 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.