The spinal cord normally ends at approximately the level of the bottom of the rib cage. Nerves continue downward from there which supply the legs, bowel, and bladder. The nerves which continue downward are called cauda equina. Pathological processes of the lower portion of the spine can lead to abnormal function of the cauda equina. This can included numbness of the legs, genitals, and rectum as well as weakness of the legs. Since these nerves are also important for bowel and bladder function, these processes may also be adversely affected.
Causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome
Cauda equina syndrome is produced by any process that compresses the nerves within the lower portion of the spine. This can include spinal stenosis, herniated disc, tumors, and dislocations of the spine. In addition, hemorrhages within the spinal canal, often linked to the use of anticoagulation and infections that produce a thick layer of pus, may all lead to cauda equina syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome
Cauda equina syndrome usually occurs with numbness of varying degrees involving the legs, genitals and rectum. There is weakness or paralysis of the legs. The bowel and bladder do not function normally. People may be unable to urinate or, if the bladder gets distended enough, they may develop overflow incontinence. Constipation or fecal incontinence may also occur.
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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