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Bowel Disturbance: A Red Flag Symptom

Bowel problems?

Why is the bowel affected?

The cauda equina nerves are responsible for controlling an individual’s awareness of the sensation around the anus. They are also responsible for the control of bowel movements.

If those nerves become compressed or squashed, an individual may lose control of their bowel and sensation around the anus. This is because the nerves responsible for communicating messages between the brain and bowel are unable to communicate.

You can learn about the potential causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome on our website here.

What sort of problems do people experience with bowel disturbance?

Individuals may experience varying degrees of the following problems:

  • Inability to stop a bowel movement.
  • Constipation.
  • Loss of sensation when passing a bowel motion.

Anne’s Story

“I had “Sciatica” for 13 years and was never allowed a MRI scan. My doctor missed the red flag signs and symptoms.

One day another doctor instantly said it was my discs and referred me for an emergency MRI. In the meantime, he advised me to go to hospital due to the sudden incontinence and lack of feeling I was experiencing. Not long after I arrived a triage nurse sent me away without even seeing a doctor. She pretty much laughed at me. Twelve hours later I had to call 999 and I was taken to the neurosurgeons for a MRI.

I was operated on twelve hours later. Two weeks later I had further surgery. I suffered complications after this and my life changed. Then I had to undergo further surgery as I suffered another slipped disc with trapped nerves. I had three operations in two years.

My bowel is badly affected. I have lost five stone since onset cauda equina. Eating causes pain discomfort diarrhoea and/or constipation. I have had many enemas when my bowel becomes impacted and it has affected my life no end. I often fall asleep on the toilet and wake a few hours later unable to walk. Taking laxatives and tablets is generally a vicious circle. Not eating is not the answer but sometimes it causes too much pain. The weight loss was needed but not in this way.

Looking after two kids and a dog, running a home and being unable to work left me in a position of homelessness. My mum has helped no end which is hard as my daddy passed away 6 months ago and he was my world.”

What you should do if you experience bowel disturbance

Seek immediate medical care from your GP or nearest A&E department. They should be able to diagnose whether you are suffering from symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome.

How is Cauda Equina Syndrome treated?

Cauda Equina Syndrome is a surgical emergency.

A patient requires surgery quickly to prevent permanent damage. It is best if surgery occurs within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. You may hear the surgical procedure being called a laminectomy. During a laminectomy part of the vertebra (called the lamina) is removed. This opens up the space surrounding the cauda equina nerves and relieves pressure on the cauda equina nerves.

There are several causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome and depending on the cause of an individual’s CES, a patient may also require other treatment. This could include treatment such as high doses of corticosteroids to reduce swelling, antibiotics if you are diagnosed with an infection and potentially radiation or chemotherapy if a tumor was the cause.

Can bowel symptoms be reversed after surgery?

Everybody is different.

Some individuals may notice an improvement straightaway in their bowel function.

Some individuals may notice an improvement in their bowel function over a period of time – perhaps as long as two years or more.

Unfortunately, there are some individuals that may find their bowel function does not improve fully, or at all.

There is a better chance that the individual may recover from bowel disturbance if surgery is received before an individual completely loses their bowel function.

If you would like to know more about any of the other red flag signs and symptoms look out for our upcoming articles and articles published previously.