Even though back pain is common as people age, doctors and emergency departments should not be quick to dismiss a patient who reports back pain.  If they do, they may fail to diagnose and treat serious conditions, such as cauda equina syndrome. If this condition is not promptly diagnosed and properly treated, patients can suffer serious and permanent harm.

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

The cauda equina is a bundle of nerves located at the base of the spine. If these nerves become compressed for any reason, the patient will experience significant lower back and buttock pain that travels down the back of the legs.  Common symptoms of this spinal condition include:

  • Severe pain in lower back, buttocks, pelvic area, thighs, and legs
  • Weakness in leg(s)
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Loss of sexual function

Many times, a physician will not recognize the emergency of this condition and treat it like it was simply a sore back or muscle pain.  If not diagnosed and left untreated, these symptoms may increase and include desensitization or numbness of the groin, muscle weakness in the legs, and even incontinence.

Because the risk of paralysis and other complications is significant, doctors and hospitals must do everything possible to avoid a misdiagnosis and properly diagnose the condition.  Radiology testing, like a CT scan or MRI, should be used to confirm a diagnosis.   If cauda equina syndrome is diagnosed, urgent surgery is required to prevent permanent harm to the patient.

Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome

It is essential for medical practitioners to recognize the symptoms of cauda equina syndrome. This can lead to a prompt diagnosis and the initiation of surgery to prevent significant harm. The most common symptoms of the condition include:

  • Severe low back pain
  • Pain, numbness, and weakness in one or both legs
  • Loss or an alteration of sensation in the legs, buttocks, and inner thighs
  • Recent problems with bladder or bowel function
  • Sudden problems with sexual dysfunction

How Should a Doctor Diagnose the Condition?

When a patient presents with one or more symptoms of cauda equina syndrome, it is necessary for the attending doctor to perform a proper medical workup. The proper workup consists of taking a detailed medical history and then performing a thorough physical examination.

If the syndrome is suspected based upon the symptoms and physical exam results, an urgent MRI of the lumbar and sacral spine is necessary. This study is used to confirm the impingement on the nerves. If the MRI shows the condition, a prompt referral to an orthoepic surgeon or neurosurgeon must be made to initiate surgery before permanent damage is done to the patient.

What is the Treatment for Compartment Syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome is considered a spinal emergency that requires urgent surgical decompression. Surgical decompression can be performed by a lumbar laminectomy and discectomy to prevent further neurological deterioration. The goal is to reverse or prevent further neurological deficits.

Cauda Equina Malpractice Settlements

  • $2,000,000 settlement for a man who suffered permanent sexual, bowel, and bladder dysfunction. His lawsuit alleged medical negligence against his surgeon for damaging his nerve roots during a lumbar surgical procedure.
  • $1,750,000 settlement for a 39year-old patient who suffered permanent paralysis of his legs due to a doctor’s misdiagnosis of his symptoms that were consistent with cauda equina syndrome.
  • $1,000,000 settlement for an 80year-old patient who exhibited signs of cauda equina syndrome after spine surgery was not timely treated. The failure to treat him caused permanent weakness to his left foot and bowel and bladder dysfunction.
  • $800,000 jury award for a patient at a Veterans Administration hospital who developed cauda equina syndrome after undergoing laminectomy surgery. The misdiagnosis caused a delay in the time necessary to perform surgery and the patient suffered from sexual dysfunction, weakness in his legs, and other neurological problems as a result of this malpractice.

Establishing Medical Liability for a Claim

Physicians have a duty to treat their patients according to the standard of care for their area of medical practice.  For cases involving cauda equine syndrome, the failure to timely diagnose and urgently treat a patient presenting with the signs and symptoms of the condition can give rise to a medical negligence lawsuit.  This can be established by a qualified medical expert witness after a careful review of the medical records.

Another physician, likely a spine specialist, is also needed to testify that the patient would have had a more favorable outcome had prompt treatment been initiated for the condition.

Seek Help from a Michigan Cauda Equina Syndrome Attorney

If a doctor and hospital fail to diagnose cauda equina syndrome when a patient presents with signs of the condition, it can give rise to a medical malpractice lawsuit.  These lawsuits seek settlements and compensation for pain and suffering, disability, loss of earnings, medical expenses, and other losses.  The settlements are often significant because of the permanent harm done to the patient.

If you or a loved one were injured or incurred medical complications after a doctor failed to properly diagnose or treat your back pain, you should contact our qualified Michigan malpractice lawyers. Through your free case consultation with our knowledgeable attorneys, you may find that you have a valid claim against a doctor, which can help you to recover compensation for your damages.

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