Rare disease awareness week–Cauda Equina Syndrome

Rare disease awareness week

This week is rare disease awareness week and I thought I would write about one of my rare conditions called cauda equina syndrome. The syndrome is comprised of different symptoms when taken together requires urgent attention. At the end of the spinal cord, there are a bundle of nerves that resemble a horse’s tail, thus the name cauda equina. When these nerves are injured or compressed due to disc material or other trauma, they can cause serious damage. For those having back pain, it is important to know what the red flags are so that emergency surgery can happen to prevent further nerve damage that could become permanent.

They are:
• Loss of sensation of one or both legs
• Loss of sensation to the genital area or saddle area (basically between your thighs)
• Incontinence of bladder and/or bowels
• Retention of urine
• Weakness or numbness in one or both legs
• Severe back pain

Not everyone will experience all of these or might have some. It is important to get an MRI when you have a few or all of these. Don’t think that just because you don’t have all, you don’t have cauda equina syndrome. I only had severe back pain and weakness and numbness in my leg when I was diagnosed. Some docs think that you need to have bowel or bladder involvement to have this condition. THIS IS NOT TRUE!! The quicker you have the MRI and surgery, the better your chances for recovery. You have about a 48 hour window to avoid permanent nerve damage. It is important that you have a competent surgeon, someone who does spines. I prefer a neurosurgeon over an orthopedic surgeon because the neurosurgeon will have a greater knowledge of the nerves. That isn’t to say an ortho can’t be just as good. If the ortho only does spinal surgery, you might be okay. Just be sure they are board certified. You can check that out by checking on this website http://www.abms.org/verify-certification/
This is only in the U.S.

If you have been diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome, you may have a lot of questions about recovery. It is a multidisciplinary approach, from physical therapists, occupational therapists, urologists, neurologists, etc. It is important to know you are not alone and there are support groups out there. I have had this condition twice, which is rare. I had it at two different levels. Everyone that I have met with this syndrome does not have the exact symptoms or damage following surgery, even if the level was the same. It take a long time to heal from nerve compression. Don’t give up hope. Regeneration is a time consuming process, but with the right amount of physical therapy and home exercises, you can recover in time. It took me two years before I was able to get off my medications until I was hit with it again three years later. It took longer for me to recover but I knew what to expect because I had the support group behind me. No one is a cauda equina syndrome expert, not even the best doctors. Little research is done in this area. There are stem cell research going on for those that have paralysis and that gives us the hope that some day our nerves can be helped.

Check out my pages about cauda equina syndrome if you like to help you learn more about it.

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