Cauda Equina Syndrome: presentation, outcome, and predictors with focus on micturition, defecation, and sexual dysfunction

Eur Spine J. 2017 Mar;26(3):894-904. doi: 10.1007/s00586-017-4943-8. Epub 2017 Jan 19.


Background: Even though micturition, defecation, and sexual function are substantially affected in cauda equina syndrome (CES), data on outcome are scarce.

Methods: Medical files of patients operated on lumbar herniated disc were screened for CES and retrospectively analyzed for baseline characteristics, outcome of micturition, defecation, and sexual function and possible predictors.

Results: Seventy-five CES patients (52% men) were included with a mean age of 44 years. L5-S1 was the most common affected level. Duration of CES complaints at presentation was, on average, 84 h (median 48 h). Prevalence of symptoms at presentation: sciatica (97%), altered sensation of the saddle area (93%), micturition dysfunction (92%), and defecation dysfunction (74%). Only 26 patients were asked about sexual dysfunction of whom 25 patients experienced dysfunction. Female gender was associated with more defecation dysfunction at presentation than male gender (OR 4.11; p = 0.039). All patients underwent decompressive surgery. Two post-operative follow-up (FU) moments took place after a mean of 75 h and 63 days. Outcomes at second FU moment: micturition dysfunction 48%, defecation dysfunction 42%, sexual dysfunction 53%, sciatica 48%, and altered sensation of the saddle area 57%. A shorter time to decompression was associated with more sciatica at FU 1 (p = 0.042) which effect had disappeared at FU 2.

Conclusion: This study is unique in (1) displaying the presenting features in a large cohort of CES patients, (2) demonstrating that recovery after decompression is slow and far from complete in the majority of patients with regard to micturition, defecation, and sexual function and (3) evaluating predictors for outcome.

Keywords: Cauda equina syndrome; Defecation; Micturition; Outcome; Predictors; Presentation; Sexual dysfunction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods*
  • Defecation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / complications
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / physiopathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polyradiculopathy / complications
  • Polyradiculopathy / physiopathology
  • Polyradiculopathy / surgery*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sciatica / etiology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / etiology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Urination
  • Urination Disorders / etiology
  • Urination Disorders / physiopathology