Spinal Procedures Come With Serious Risk
Painful, Paralyzing Disease Blamed On Back ProceduresUPDATED: 12:13 p.m. EST November 21, 2002

MIAMI -- If you're contemplating back surgery or considering another epidural during labor, you should be aware of a rarely diagnosed condition.
Arachnoiditis Video The disease, arachnoiditis, is often the result of multiple back procedures, and according to the experts, it's painful, incurable, and can ultimately lead to paralysis.

Gerrick Busl, 55, has had multiple back surgeries. But it wasn't until recently that he learned those back surgeries actually caused more damage.

"They determined that the diagnosis was arachnoiditis," Busl (pictured, below right) said. "I have not been without pain since this condition developed."

Anesthesiologist Dr. J. Antonio Aldrete wrote the book "Arachnoiditis: The Silent Epidemic."

Aldrete says arachnoiditis is an inflammation of the lining of the spinal cord that causes your nerve endings to clump together and eventually stick to the spinal cord lining.

He said, "It can be injury from surgery or injury from a needle."

Aldrete says repeated back procedures can cause arachnoiditis in up to 25 percent of people who have them.

This includes women who have repeated epidural anesthesia during labor.

Doctors don't know enough about it, Aldrete says, and few ever warn patients of the potential risk.

"If something is done in the first two or three months after the injurious event, then in the majority of cases we can either prevent it from going into the prolifery phase -- the scarring phase -- or we can at least reduce the symptoms significantly to make the patient's life more tolerable," Aldrete said.

What sets this disease apart from other back ailments is its unique and constant pain, something Busl lives with daily.

"My feet often feel like I'm walking on glass or on rocks. Sometimes I have the sensation of water running down my legs or like bugs biting your legs," he said. "Simple things like cooking or making the bed, things like that, even shaving leaning forward into a mirror to shave is a painful process."

Busl, once an avid athlete, now has trouble walking and worries paralysis is in his future.

He has advice for others contemplating back surgery.

"You and the surgeon need to talk about the potential risk before you have that
surgery, because it's a huge risk," he said. "My whole life has been altered probably from surgery that was done to try to help me."

Besides chronic pain, other symptoms of the disease include severe bladder and bowel dysfunction and sexual dysfunction.

Currently there is no treatment or cure for arachnoiditis.

For more information about arachnoiditis click here.
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