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Back Pain Health Center

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Cauda Equina Syndrome Overview

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Diagnosing Cauda Equina Syndrome

A doctor can diagnose cauda equina syndrome. Here's what you may need to confirm a diagnosis:

  • A medical history, in which you answer questions about your health, symptoms, and activity.
  • A physical exam to assess your strength, reflexes, sensation, stability, alignment, and motion. You may also need blood tests.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses magnetic fields and computers to produce three-dimensional images of your spine.
  • A myelogram -- an X-ray of the spinal canal after injection of contrast material -- which can pinpoint pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
  • A computed tomography (CT) scan.

Treating Cauda Equina Syndrome

If you have cauda equina syndrome, you'll need prompt treatment to relieve pressure on nerves. Surgery must be done quickly to prevent permanent damage, such as paralysis of the legs, loss of bladder and bowel control, sexual function, or other problems. It is best if this occurs within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Depending on the cause of your CES, you may also need high doses of corticosteroids. These can reduce swelling. If you are diagnosed with an infection you may need antibiotics. if a tumor is responsible, radiation or chemotherapy may be needed after sugery.

Even with treatment, you may not retrieve full function. It depends on how much damage has occurred. If surgery is successful, you may continue to recover bladder and bowel function over a period of years.

Living With Cauda Equina Syndrome

If permanent damage has occurred, surgery cannot always repair it. Your cauda equina syndrome is chronic. You will need to learn ways to adapt to changes in your body's functioning. You'll find that both physical and emotional support is essential.

Try to involve your family in your care. Many professionals can also provide you support. Depending on your limitations, you can seek help from:

  • An occupational or physical therapist
  • A social worker
  • A continence advisor
  • A sex therapist

And, as with many conditions, there may be nothing quite as helpful as support from those who really understand what you're going through. That's why joining a cauda equina support group may be a good idea.

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