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What is the incidence of cauda equina syndrome? A systematic review

PainSci » bibliography » Hoeritzauer et al 2020
Tags: back pain, sciatica, red flags, spine, leg, pain problems, butt, hip, limbs

One article on PainSci cites Hoeritzauer 2020: The Complete Guide to Low Back Pain

PainSci commentary on Hoeritzauer 2020: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

This is the best synthesis of limited data on the incidence of CES available. It contradicts the popular idea that a family doctor will see only “one case in their career.” That is based on a zombie citation to dubious data, as explored by Tom Jesson in his search for its origins and the best modern evidence-based estimate. Bottom line: we don’t really know, it’s probably more like “a few,” and “several” for specialists in musculoskeletal medicine.

Reassuringly, this data also showed that only about 20% of people with suspected CES actually do.

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

OBJECTIVE: Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a surgical emergency requiring timely operative intervention to prevent symptom progression. Accurately establishing the incidence of CES is required to inform healthcare service design and delivery, including out-of-hours imaging arrangements.

METHODS: A systematic literature search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Scopus was undertaken to identify original studies stating the incidence of CES, and the estimates were combined in a meta-analysis as described in the protocol registered with PROSPERO (registration no. CRD42017065865) and reported using the PRISMA guidelines.

RESULTS: A total of 1281 studies were identified, and 26 studies were included in the review. Data about CES incidence were available from 3 different populations: asymptomatic community populations, patients with nontraumatic low-back pain, and patients presenting as an emergency with suspected CES. The incidence of CES was 0.3-0.5 per 100,000 per year in 2 asymptomatic community populations, 0.6 per 100,000 per year in an asymptomatic adult population, and 7 per 100,000 per year in an asymptomatic working-age population. CES occurred in 0.08% of those with low-back pain presenting to primary care in 1 study, and a combined estimate of 0.27% was calculated for 4 studies of those with low-back pain presenting to secondary care. Across 18 studies of adults with suspected CES, 19% had radiological and clinical CES. Difficulties in comparison between studies resulted from the heterogeneous definitions of CES and lack of separation of more advanced CES with retention, which is unlikely to be reversible. In the studies of patients with suspected CES, the small sample size, the high number of single-center studies (18/18), the high number of studies from the United Kingdom (17/18), the retrospective nature of the studies, and the high number of abstracts rather than full texts (9/18) reduced the quality of the data.

CONCLUSIONS: From current studies, it appears that CES occurs infrequently in asymptomatic community populations and in only 19% of those presenting with symptoms. Determining accurate incidence figures and designing a bespoke service for investigation of patients with suspected CES would require a consensus clinical and radiological definition of CES and international multisite studies of patient pathways of investigation and management.

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This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights: