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Cauda Equina syndrome is a rare disorder affecting spinal nerves that can cause lower back pain, weakness of the legs and a range of other symptoms. It can be caused or worsened by medical negligence meaning that those affected may be able to claim compensation.
Minton Morrill Solicitors have built up an enviable reputation in successfully pursuing these cases and recovering substantial compensation for clients with Cauda Equina syndrome claims. We have a specialist team dedicated to pursuing successful Cauda Equina syndrome compensation claims allowing our clients to re-build their lives following medical negligence.
To find out more or for a free confidential initial consultation, call and speak to one of our expert Cauda Equina solicitors on 0113 245 8549 or use our contact form.
What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?
Cauda Equina syndrome is a rare disorder that affects a bundle of nerve roots called Cauda Equina (Latin for horse’s tail). These nerves, located at the bottom of the spinal cord, send and receive messages to and from your legs, feet and pelvic organs like the bladder.
Lower back pain is very common and affects millions of people. In most cases you are unlikely to need surgery but in some cases severe back pain can be a sign of Cauda Equina.
In patients with Cauda Equina syndrome, there is compression of the spinal nerve roots, usually categorised by “red flag” symptoms. Failure to diagnose and treat Cauda Equina syndrome can result in devastating and long-term health consequences.
What causes Cauda Equina Syndrome?
Cauda Equina typically occurs in adults more often than children. Common causes are:-
- A slipped disc (a severe ruptured disc in the lumbar area); the most common cause.
- Narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis).
- A spinal lesion or malignant tumour.
- A spinal infection, inflammation, haemorrhage or fracture.
- Complications from a severe lumbar spine injury from, for example, a fall or car crash
- A Congenital abnormality of the spine or birth defect.
What are the symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome?
Cauda Equina syndrome is usually characterised by so called “red flag” symptoms including:-
- Severe low back pain.
- Pain, numbness or weakness in both legs that causes problems with mobility, specifically stumbling and difficulty lifting the body e.g. when standing from a chair.
- Problems with bladder or bowel function such as retention (not fully emptying) or incontinence (trouble holding urine in).
- Sexual dysfunction that has come on suddenly.
- Saddle and/or sensory disturbance.
- Altered sensation in the legs, buttocks, inner thighs, backs of the legs or feet which is severe or gets increasingly worse.
Types of Cauda Equina Syndrome:
- Incomplete Cauda Equina Syndrome
Where the syndrome is described as “incomplete”, a patient will likely have bladder problems such as difficulty with urinary sensation (not knowing when to pass water), weak urinary stream and having to strain to urinate. Saddle and genital sensory defect is often unilateral or partial.
- Complete Cauda Equina Syndrome
The “complete” syndrome is characterised by painless urinary retention and overflow incontinence because the bladder is no longer fully under control. There is usually extensive or complete saddle and genital sensory defect in complete Cauda Equina syndrome.
How is Cauda Equina Diagnosed?
It is important that Cauda Equina syndrome is diagnosed quickly after the onset of symptoms. Usually, a doctor will make a diagnosis based on the following factors:
- Medical history about a patient’s health, symptoms and activity.
- Physical examination to assess strength, reflexes, sensation, stability, alignment and movements. It may also be necessary for blood tests to be performed.
- MRI radiology scan to produce a three dimensional image of the spine.
- Myelogram, an X-ray of the spinal canal after the injection of special contrast material which can identify pressure points on the spinal cord or the nerves.
- CT radiology scan.
How is Cauda Equina Treated?
Once a diagnosis of Cauda Equina has been made, prompt medical treatment, ideally within 48 hours, is needed to relive the pressure on the nerves. Surgery must be performed quickly to prevent permanent damage to the nerve that can result in paralysis of the legs, loss of bladder and bowel control, loss of sexual function or other problems.
Even with treatment, some patients do not recover full function because this is dependent on how much damage has occurred and how quickly surgery was performed. Delay or missed diagnosis and delay in treatment are the key areas for Cauda Equina medical negligence claims because lost time can lead to permanent and irreversible damage.
It is well known that the outcome for patients with incomplete Cauda Equina syndrome at the time of compression release surgery is generally more favourable that those patients suffering from complete Cauda Equina syndrome whose prognosis is usually a lot poorer.
Compensation Claims for Cauda Equina Syndrome
Our experienced clinical negligence team have years of experience in dealing with Cauda Equina compensation claims. There are many reasons why someone may have a claim for Cauda Equina compensation and our team will look at all potential reasons, to include:-
- Misdiagnosis, the most common reason for a compensation claim. Our team’s experience is that General Practitioners, Walk-in-Centres and Accident and Emergency departments may fail to properly take a detailed medical history or perform a thorough physical examination and miss key “red-flag” symptoms of Cauda Equina syndrome. By the time the patient is re-examined, their condition may have deteriorated and the opportunity to successfully treat their condition is lost.
- Delayed investigations. Time is of the essence with Cauda Equina syndrome. Patients with signs or symptoms of this serious condition require urgent investigation to confirm the diagnosis but there are, in some circumstances, still delays of days or weeks in performing these. If such delays occur, the patient may deteriorate and lose the opportunity to have their condition successfully treated.
- Inadequate or poorly performed surgery resulting in cord compression.
- The failure to recognise post-operative complications following surgery.
Types of Compensation for Cauda Equina Syndrome Claims?
Failings in the prompt diagnosis or treatment of Cauda Equina can lead to permanent and lifelong disability. If a patient is able to establish they received sub-standard medical care that led to them suffering an avoidable Cauda Equina injury, they may receive significant compensation. Some examples of the types of compensation they may receive include:
- An award of damages money for the injury itself that could include impairment of bladder and/or bowel control, possible urinary catheterisation, having to undertake regular pelvic floor exercises as well as physical therapy if the muscles have been damaged and there is weakness or paralysis in the lower extremities. Sexual function can also be affected, especially if there is limited bladder and bowel control. This can, of course, affect relationships. The amount of compensation will depend upon whether there is a chance of recovery or whether the injury is permanent.
- The cost of further surgery.
- The cost of physiotherapy, occupational therapy or other therapies to help improve or relieve the symptoms.
- Loss of earnings, if the ability to work and earnings potential is affected.
- Handicap on the open labour market because of being disadvantaged by the injury.
- The cost of care. It may be that the injury sustained is such that an individual is no longer able to care for themselves or carry out housework, shopping or DIY, for example, and these tasks will need to be performed by paid carers and assistants.
- Aids and equipment needs to help manage the disability.
The list is not exhaustive and our specialist Cauda Equina solicitors will ensure that you receive the maximum amount of compensation to enable you to move forward in your life.
Successful Cauda Equina Compensation Claims
We have a track record of successfully pursing and resolving Cauda Equina medical negligence compensation claims for clients who have suffered from Cauda Equina syndrome.
We have set out three examples of Case Studies below:
- Robert (name changed to protect client confidentiality)
Robert presented to Accident & Emergency complaining of lower back pain and numbness in his legs as well as other “red-flag” symptoms. Despite this, the doctor did not suspect Cauda Equina syndrome and did not refer Robert for investigation.
Robert’s condition deteriorated and it was subsequently found that he had a large disc prolapse that had caused Cauda Equina syndrome. Robert suffered from bladder and bowel incontinence, pain in both legs, loss of saddle sensation and sexual dysfunction. These problems substantially impacted his daily living including his employment, social life and personal relationships and his ability to care for himself.
Robert received substantial financial compensation for his lifelong avoidable injuries.
- Stephanie (name changed to protect client confidentiality)
Stephanie underwent spinal surgery at Hospital in early 2015. Because of avoidable complications with the surgery, she sustained Cauda Equina syndrome resulting in permanent severe problems with her bladder and bowels, specifically, double incontinence. This damage affected her employment, personal and social life, her ability to care for herself and left her with a serious psychiatric mental health injury.
The standard of Stephanie’s surgery was investigated and independent experts agreed that the injuries sustained were as a result of negligence. The Defendant Hospital admitted liability and Stephanie received a significant Out of Court settlement package.
- Gemma (name changed to protect client confidentiality)
Gemma, aged 35, succeeded in a claim against her General Practitioner having presented to him complaining of severe lower back pain, radiating to her legs, numbness in her perineum and the vaginal area, numbness at the base of her bottom, an inability to pass urine normally (with a constant feeling to urinate) a burning sensation on urinating and having to strain to pass water. Despite all of these “red-flag” symptoms, the GP simply prescribed ibuprofen and advised Gemma to be as mobile as possible.
Gemma went back to her GP 3 days later. At this stage, the GP recognised the clear signs and symptoms of Cauda Equina syndrome but sadly by this time the damage had already been done. Gemma was left with permanent injuries, including: urinary problems, problems with her bowel, constant leg pain and limited mobility. The claim was successfully pursued and Gemma received substantial compensation for the negligent medical treatment and advice she had initially received from her GP.
Contact the Minton Morrill specialist medical negligence team of solicitors if you, or someone you know, suffers from Cauda Equina syndrome and has concerns about the standard of medical care they received during the diagnosis and/or treatment of this condition. We will advise whether we can help you investigate a claim for medical negligence compensation.
For more information or for a confidential free initial consultation, call one of our experts on 0113 245 8549 or use our contact form.
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