Symptoms and Signs of Cauda Equina Syndrome Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Cauda Equina Syndrome Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis

Cauda equina syndrome is compression and/or inflammation of nerves in the lower portion of the spinal canal; if left untreated, it can lead to permanent loss of bowel and bladder control cause paralysis of the legs – consequently, it is considered a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms of cauda equina syndrome may include low back pain, pain in one or both legs that start at the buttocks and travels down the leg, numbness in the groin area, bowel and bladder disturbances (bowel – bowel incontinence, constipation, loss of anal muscle and sensation; bladder - urinary retention, urinary hesitancy and/or incontinence and decreased urethral sensation), lower extremity muscle weakness, lower extremity loss of sensation, and reduced or absent lower extremity reflexes.

The cause of cauda equina syndrome is significant narrowing of the spinal canal that compresses nerve roots below the level of the spinal cord. The underlying causes for this significant narrowing are many. They include trauma, herniated discs, spinal stenosis (due to developmental or degenerative problems), tumors, inflammation, infections of the spinal canal and accidental medical causes during surgeries.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.