Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is rare neurosurgical emergency requiring emergent surgical decompression to prevent bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction that can have significant impact on quality of life. There is a paucity of data relating to the prevalence of these long-term complications.


The aim of this observational study was to evaluate the long-term prevalence of CES-related bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction and impact on quality of life to inform service provision.


Participants were selected through coding of operative records of patients who underwent lumbar decompression for CES secondary to a herniated intervertebral disc at two large UK neurosurgical departments between 2011 and 2015 inclusive. A telephone-based survey including both validated and modified tools was used to collect data pertaining to bladder, bowel, and sexual function and impact on quality of life both before development of CES and at the time of the survey, at least 1 year postoperatively.


Of 135 patients contacted, 71 (42 male, 29 female) responded. Post-CES compared to pre-CES, there was higher prevalence and significant intrarespondent deterioration of bowel dysfunction, bladder dysfunction, perception of bladder function, sexual function, effect of back pain on sex life, and activities of daily living/quality of life (p < .0001 for all). Significant differences in individual questions pre-CES versus post-CES were also found.


We show high prevalence of long-term bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction post-CES, with functional and psychosocial consequences. Our results demonstrate the need for preoperative information and subsequent screening and long-term multidisciplinary support for these complications.

You do not currently have access to this content.