Cauda equina syndrome is described as an acute loss of lumbar plexus function. Often pain is absent, and acute loss of bladder control and saddle anesthesia are the only symptoms.
CES is considered a surgical emergency, as duration of nerve compression is a contributing factor to injury progression. Thus, surgical intervention and decompression plays a large part in improving recovery.
Acutely, patients can lose sensation in a saddle distribution in the genitals, inner thighs and anus. This pattern of sensation loss is described as "saddle anesthesia" and is a sign of possible cauda equina syndrome.
Inflammatory disorders, especially those which are spinal inflammatory disorders can compress the cauda equina. Examples of diseases include ankylosing spondylitis, chronic TB, Paget disease of bone, neurosarcoidosis and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.
Lumbar spinal stenosis can also lead to CES. This is described as the diameter of the spinal canal narrowing, which can occur with degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis.
Trauma sustained to the cauda equina can also lead to CES. Knife and gun wounds, as well as iatrogenic punctures in the lumbar spine can lead to this.
Lesions caused by tumor metastases, as well as disc prolapse can also cause cauda equina syndrome.
A common symptom seen in patients with this syndrome is incontinence. As the nerves located in the cauda equina innervate fibers necessary for bladder control and the anal sphincter, function may be lost with cauda equina syndrome. Post-void residual urinary incontinence is seen, as well as decreased anal tone.
Sciatica is also a symptom of CES. Sciatica is a term describing pain, weakness, numbness and "pins and needles" sensations which occur in various parts of the buttocks, legs and feet.
MRI is often used to confirm patients believed to have cauda equina syndrome. MRI is helpful in visualizing disc herniation, tissue damage in penetrating injuries and the overall cauda equina.
Typically, the first means of diagnosis for CES is through clinical diagnosis. A history of acute loss of sensation, coupled with bladder or fecal incontinence and a reasonable cause of etiology is often enough to give a physician concern for CES.
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