Campaign to raise awareness of spinal cord injury

Late diagnosis can have major impact
  • Deborah Condon

A new campaign has been launched to raise awareness of a rare type of spinal cord injury, which can lead to major distress for people if not diagnosed early.

Cauda equina syndrome (CES) occurs when the bundle of nerves below the end of the spinal cord, known as the cauda equina, is damaged. These nerves send and receive messages to and from the feet, legs and pelvic organs.

The most common causes of CES include a severe ruptured disk in the lumbar area, a malignant tumour, a spinal infection or a complication from a severe lumbar injury, such as a car crash. It can also be caused by a birth defect, such as an abnormal connection between blood vessels.

Symptoms can include:
-Severe lower back pain
-Pain, numbness or weakness in one or both legs
-Problems with bladder or bowel function, such as incontinence.

According to Spinal Injuries Ireland (SII), a late diagnosis of CES can cause "untold distress to patients". However, this can be avoided if diagnosed early, as the syndrome can be treated with surgery.

"Currently, over 400 people in Ireland are living with this isolating condition. Lives are irreparably changed following a CES diagnosis, but the reality is that early diagnosis can make an enormous difference to sufferers," explained SII chief executive, Fiona Bolger.

SII pointed out that people living with the syndrome can face a number of personal care and psychological issues, as it is essentially a hidden disability. It can lead to the patient feeling very isolated and can have a big impact on finances.

SII has launched an awareness campaign to tackle the lack of information and understanding of CES, both among members of the public and healthcare professionals.

It noted that a good understanding of CES is important not only for orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons, but also for GPs, Emergency Department staff and other specialists to whom these patients may present.

Recognition of the syndrome is often delayed as the patient may present with common symptoms that can have a variety of causes. Furthermore, patients may not mention some of the symptoms, such as loss of bladder control, because of embarrassment, or because the onset is slow.

"There is a lack of awareness about CES. Knowing about the red flags helps GPs and Emergency Department doctors to check for the signs of a developing syndrome.

"Early diagnosis helps people access definitive treatment as early as possible. SII has launched a welcome awareness campaign that will increase understanding about the syndrome and will also improve awareness about the supports that are available," commented Prof Mark Delargy, clinical director at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin.

For more information on CES and the awareness campaign, click here.

 


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