Does rectal examination have any value in the clinical diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome?
PURPOSE: This study aims to quantify the value of digital rectal examination (DRE) in the clinical diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome. METHODS: A retrospective case note review was performed on all patients referred to a University Teaching Hospital over a one-year period with documented suspicion of cauda equina syndrome. All Patients underwent MRI scanning to either confirm or rule out the diagnosis. RESULTS: Fifty-seven such patients were identified, 13 (23%) of whom had confirmation of cauda equina syndrome on MRI scanning. The DRE did not significantly discriminate for the outcome of MRI (p = 0.897, test accuracy 51%, diagnostic odds ratio 1.42). There was no correlation between the cumulative number of positive clinical findings in an individual patient and the likelihood of MRI diagnosis and no significant link between any individual clinical feature and the MRI result. CONCLUSIONS: Digital rectal examination has no significant value in the acute diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome. This study further confirms that there is no discreet clinical protocol applicable with which to confidently confirm or rule out this diagnosis. DRE is traditionally enshrined as an essential facet of clinical assessment in suspected cauda equina syndrome but it cannot be used as a discriminator to ration urgent MRI scanning.