Arachnoiditis is a neuropathic disease caused by the inflammation of the arachnoid, one of the membranes that surround and protect the nerves of the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. The arachnoid can become severely inflamed because of adverse reactions to chemicals, blood, and/or steroids, infection from bacteria or viruses, as the result of direct injury to the spine, chronic compression of spinal nerves, or complications from spinal surgery or other invasive spinal procedures. Lumbar patches (also known as blood patches), which are often useful in relieving painful headaches associated with spinal taps and epidural anesthesia, have been found to be significant potential causative agents in some cases and may warrant avoidance of the procedure where possible. Multiple blood patches may amplify the probability of contracting arachnoiditis. It is also noteworthy that blood has been found to be a significant inflammatory agent in the nervous system. Inflammation can sometimes lead to the formation of scar tissue and adhesions which can cause the spinal nerves to "stick" together.
The swollen arachnoid can lead to a host of painful and debilitating symptoms. Chronic pain is common, including neuralgia
. Numbness and tingling of the extremities is frequent in patients due to spinal cord involvement. Bowel, bladder, and sexual functioning can be affected if the lower part of the spinal cord is affected. While arachnoiditis has no consistent pattern of symptoms, it frequently affects the nerves that supply the legs and lower back. Many sufferers find themselves unable to sit for long (or even short) periods of time, often due to severe pain as well as efferent neurological symptoms, such as difficulties controlling limbs. This can be particularly problematic for those patients who exhibit difficulties standing or walking for protracted periods, as wheelchairs are not helpful for this group. Some sufferers benefit from relatively new inventions, such as the Segway
or the less expensive Stand'n'Ride alternative. Standing wheelchairs are also available, although often quite expensive and limited compared to these alternatives. However, standing endurance and vibration tolerance should be taken into account before a motorized assistance device is selected.
It is critical for patients to realize that the symptoms of arachnoiditis are highly varied and are not all experienced by all sufferers. Consequently, while typically significantly life-altering, the outcome, especially with physical therapy, appropriate psychotherapy, and medication, may be better than many patients fear upon receiving the diagnosis.
Arachnoiditis is a chronic disorder and there is no known cure at this time. Pain management techniques may provide some relief to patients. Prognosis may be hard to determine because of the lack of correlation between the beginning of the disease and the start of symptoms. For many, arachnoiditis is a disabling disease that causes chronic pain and neurological deficits. It may also lead to other spinal cord conditions, such as syringomyelia
Arachnoiditis is a difficult condition to treat. Treatment is limited to alleviation of pain and other symptoms. Surgical intervention generally has a poor outcome and only provides temporary relief. Steroid
injections administered either intrathecally or epidurally have been linked as a cause of the disease, therefore they are generally discouraged as a treatment and may even worsen the condition.
Recent research has indicated that a group of chemicals called cytokines
that are produced by various cells in the body may be responsible for generating the pain response. Medications that affect the release of cytokines or block the action of cytokines may reduce the pain response. Various anti-cytokine medications are now being used to treat painful disease states such as Rheumatoid Arthritis
and Crohn's Disease
. In a recent study the anti-cytokine medication, Thalidomide, is being evaluated for its effect in treating pain associated with Arachnoiditis.