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What is Arachnoiditis?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2016
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Arachnoiditis is a condition that causes chronic pain. It is marked by an inflamed arachnoid, a membrane that protects the spinal cord nerves. Besides pain, arachnoiditis may also cause debilitating muscle spasms and cramping. It can also lead to problems with the bladder and bowel, as well as impaired sexual function. Some individuals with severe arachnoiditis may even experience paralysis in lower body extremities.

There are many things that may lead to arachnoiditis. Chemicals may cause irritation and lead to the inflammation of the arachnoid. Bacterial and viral infections can also lead to inflammation. Some individuals are diagnosed with arachnoiditis after injury to the spine. Continuous compression of the spinal nerves can lead to the condition, as can certain complications from spinal surgery or invasive medical treatments.

In some cases, the inflammation of arachnoiditis causes scar tissue to form. The scar tissue causes the nerves of the spine to stick together. Often, this leads to the impaired function of the affected nerves, causing a range of symptoms, including a burning or stinging sensation in the lower back. The scar tissue and adhesions of arachnoiditis may affect not just the back, but also the legs. The impairment of these nerves may also cause numbness and tingling.

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Sadly, the prognosis for most arachnoiditis patients is not good. Treatment usually fails to relieve the severe pain and neurological deficits typical of the condition. Usually, treatment is centered on relieving the pain, as no cure exists for the condition. Surgical treatment is considered controversial, as results are often poor and any relief that is realized is typically short-term.

Predicting the future for arachnoiditis patients is often made difficult because of the natural effects of aging. Likewise, pre-existing spinal cord conditions tend to make obtaining an accurate prognosis a challenge. Arachnoiditis does not follow a predictable pattern, making it hard for doctors to tell patients exactly what to expect. Furthermore, the severity of symptoms seems to be highly variable, leading to more difficulty in drawing conclusions for the future.

There are many programs that focus on chronic pain research, seeking to help individuals with conditions like arachnoiditis. Such programs work to find new ways of treating the pain caused by arachnoiditis and dealing with the often-debilitating nerve damage. Pain relief is not the only focus, however, as the real goal of such research programs is to reverse the effects of arachnoiditis altogether.

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