One of the lesser-known neurological conditions that can derail the lives of those unlucky enough to fall victim to it is called Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) — and it is only lesser known to those who don’t have it. People who are diagnosed with the disorder suffer from severe back and leg pain, incontinence and sexual dysfunction, and require immediate intervention to prevent it from leading to worse outcomes, including paralysis and death.
Unfortunately, many sufferers of CES find themselves with the condition as a result of improper medical advice and treatment. This devastating condition may require lifelong accommodations in the best situations, and those who contribute to its manifesting through negligence or malpractice should be held to account and pay their fair share.
What Is Cauda Equina Syndrome?
CES occurs when the bundle of nerves at the base of the spine called the cauda equina are damaged. These nerves connect the spinal cord to the lower body, and can result in irreparable pain and dysfunction when they suffer trauma or are otherwise compressed.
While it has a rare overall incidence in the total population, CES should be on the radar of any medical professional treating low back pain. Studies have found that CES is behind 2–6 percent of all lumbar disk operations. And its high rate of concurrence with other degenerative diseases makes for costly hospital stays — the average CES-motivated hospital stay costs between $100,000 and $150,000.
CES may lead to the following symptoms and effects:
- Intense lower back pain
- Sciatica problems
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
- No ankle reflex
- Trouble walking
- Muscle weakness and paralysis in the lower legs
- Sexual dysfunction
How Can Medical Malpractice Lead to Cauda Equina Syndrome?
CES’s high rate of concurrence with other chronic conditions sometimes implies causality — as in cases of medical malpractice, where an operation in the lower back area results in damage to the cauda equina nerves, or where CES is undiagnosed despite evidence of a condition with a high rate of concurrence.
The most common medical malpractice causes of CES include:
- Surgical errors
- Direct trauma from lumbar puncture
- Spinal anesthesia errors and excessive concentration around the cauda equina
- Trauma from catheters
- Misdiagnosed lumbar tumor
- Undiagnosed ependymomas (central nervous system tumors)
- Misdiagnosed metastatic cancer
- Misdiagnosis of Paget’s disease
- A hospital-acquired infection
Why a Timely Diagnosis Is So Important in Treating Cauda Equina Syndrome
The prognosis for those affected by CES depends greatly on a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan — to a much larger degree than many conditions involving surgery. With sudden-onset CES, the surgical window is measured in hours, with interventions within 6–48 hours of symptoms arising having the best chance for recovery. Any delay in diagnosis may lead to irreparable damage; even with treatment, CES leads to poor outcomes in 20 percent of those affected.
Any of the following missteps could cause the difference between a timely diagnosis of CES and a missed window for treatment:
- Failure to recognize the worsening condition of the patient
- Failure to take a thorough history from the patient
- Failure to recognize certain symptoms as possible indications of CES
- Failure to ask key questions related to numbness, bladder function or other lower extremity issues
- Failure to have proper diagnostic tests done
- Failure to monitor patient’s progress
- Misreading of test results
One prominent CES symptom is “saddle anesthesia.” Source: Wikipedia, shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license
When to Consult with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney
Medical professionals have a responsibility to comply with a standard of care which ensures that even rare conditions like CES are detected through the appropriate diagnostic steps — and to safeguard against treatment errors which may cause its occurrence. When a care provider fails in this responsibility, it can result in lifelong consequences for their patient.
If you or a loved one have been affected by CES, the best course of action is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. With 30 years of experience in medical malpractice, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of medical negligence or professional malpractice.