Cauda Equina Syndrome and Depression

Portrait of a young woman with anxiety and depression problems.

Depression is the most common mental health issue in the United States, affecting about one out of every ten adults. Many people who suffer from clinical depression are otherwise physically healthy. However, chronic physical illness can cause or worsen depression, and rates of depression tend to be higher in sufferers of chronic illness like cauda equina syndrome.

Cauda equina syndrome is a serious neurological condition that can cause severe pain, weakness, and loss of function. Cauda equina syndrome “red flags” include common symptoms like intense low back pain or pain in the legs, and less common, more alarming ones like numbness or weakness in the lower extremities, fecal and urinary incontinence, and sexual dysfunction. These symptoms often have a sudden onset, but may develop more slowly over time.

The physical effects of cauda equina syndrome (CES) are so dramatic that it can be easy for the patient and family members to focus exclusively on the patient’s physical needs. However, it is important to recognize and treat the mental health effects of CES as well.

How Cauda Equina Syndrome Contributes to Depression

What are the things that give your life meaning? It might be a job that you enjoy, socializing with friends and family, participating in sports or exercising, traveling, even being intimate with a spouse or partner. Cauda equina syndrome can disrupt every one of those things, and more.

Weakness and pain may make it difficult to work or enjoy recreation. Incontinence is unpleasant and embarrassing and often causes sufferers to isolate themselves from people they enjoy. Sexual dysfunction can affect both desire and confidence in intimate relationships. The loss of any one of these important activities can contribute to depression. The convergence of all of them, especially suddenly, can be devastating.

Cauda equina syndrome also alters the nature of the patient’s closest relationships. Spouses who are used to relating to one another as partners, best friends, lovers, and equals may now find themselves relating to each other on a very different level: caregiver and patient. A CES sufferer may be simultaneously grateful for a spouse’s caregiving, resentful that it is necessary, ashamed at not being able to contribute to the relationship as they did before, and fearful about whether the relationship can last under the burden of cauda equina syndrome.

Even if their spouse assures them otherwise, it is understandable that the patient may feel like a burden—and even as if the spouse or family members would be better off without them. This often-persistent feeling can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions, so loved ones should be on the lookout for language or behavior that suggests the patient is thinking about suicide. It is a difficult topic, but it is important for family members to be able to ask directly: “The way you are talking has me really worried. Are you thinking about suicide?”

Financial pressure often leads to or exacerbates depression, and financial pressure is common with CES. Not only may the patient be unable to work and support themselves and the family, but they are likely to need ongoing and costly medical care. The double-whammy of loss of income and increased bills has plunged more than one sufferer of a chronic illness into depression.

Another issue worth considering is the fact that cauda equina syndrome patients may be haunted by “what ifs.” If caught and treated promptly, the severity of cauda equina syndrome symptoms tends to be much less, and the patient has a much better prognosis. A delay in diagnosis of a couple of days or even hours can lead to permanent, life-altering injuries.

If the patient sought medical help and the treating physician failed to appropriately assess or treat them, the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice. Unfortunately, medical malpractice for failure to diagnose cauda equina syndrome is too common.

Cauda Equina Syndrome, Depression, and Medical Malpractice

Patients whose condition was worsened by their doctor’s misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis may be haunted by imaginings of how their lives might be different had their physician diagnosed and treated them in a timely fashion.

For a patient dealing with all of the challenges of cauda equina syndrome, the thought of pursuing a medical malpractice case against a doctor can feel like one more crushing burden. The reality is that working with an experienced cauda equina syndrome medical malpractice attorney can make life better for CES sufferers and their families.

Of course, a lawsuit cannot reverse certain medical outcomes. But it can achieve two important things: holding negligent physicians accountable, and getting injured patients the resources they need to live their best possible lives. Both of these outcomes are important.

By holding your physician accountable, you take back some of the power that your neurological condition has taken away. And being compensated for the damages you have suffered can relieve not only your financial burdens, but allow you the best possible physical and mental health treatment.

As medical malpractice attorneys, we understand that our clients would prefer to have never needed our services at all. While we can’t change the past, we do everything in our power to help our clients achieve the best future they can. We understand the impact cauda equina syndrome can have on your mental as well as physical health. To discuss how we may be able to help you move forward, please contact The Fraser Law Firm P.C. to schedule a consultation.