Cauda equina syndrome (CES) occurs when the nerve roots at the base of the spinal cord are compressed. Known as the cauda equina (horse's tail in Latin), this bundle of nerves governs the sensation and function of the bladder, bowel, sexual organs, and legs. CES is a medical emergency. If surgery is not done right away to relieve pressure on the nerves, function below the waist may be lost.
A common cause of CES is rupture of a spinal disk. A spinal disk is a semi-soft mass of tissue that rests between the bones of the spine. These bones are known as the vertebrae. The disks act as the spine’s shock absorbers. When a disk ruptures and spills out into the spinal canal, it can press against the bundle of nerves, causing CES. This syndrome may be caused by:
Accident that crushes the spine (eg, a car accident or fall)
CES requires urgent surgery. If you have any of the above symptoms, get emergency care.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He will also do a physical exam. He may perform a neurological exam, which includes testing reflexes, vision, mental status, and strength. A rectal exam may be done to assess sphincter function.
—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the brain and spinal cord
—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head and spinal cord
—imaging test that uses a special dye to view the spinal cord and the area surrounding it
If have CES, you will need surgery right away.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Surgery is required to treat CES. Your doctor will try to reverse the damage. If you do not have surgery, you can have permanent damage. You can be left paralyzed and unable to control your bladder and bowels.
Surgery may involve:
—a surgical procedure to remove a portion of a vertebra, called the lamina
—a surgical procedure to remove part of an intervertebral disk that is putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root
The long-term effects of CES can range from mild to severe. Problems may include:
Problems with bladder and bowels
Your follow-up care may involve working with a:
Incontinence specialist (if you have lost bladder control)
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a