AA is an old disease first recognized in the mid-1800’s (19th Century). The causes in that century were primarily the infections of tuberulosis and syphillis. Fortunately, these diseases almost diappeared in teh 20th century because antibiotics were discovered that dramtically reduced their prevalence. In the 20th century the major cause of AA was insoluble dyes injected into the spinal canal to enhance x-rays for diagnostic purposes. In 1987 MRI was invented which led to near extinction of AA. In modern times of the 21st century AA, however, has re-emerged due to numerous factors including aging, degenerative spine conditions, obesity, and excessive sitting before computers and television screens, and invasive spine interventions and surgeries, among other factors.
- The word “arachnoid” refers to a spider’s web.
- The exact year the disease, “arachnoiditis”, was named is uncertain, however, the 1873 “Comprehensive Medical Dictionary”, published by J.B. Lippincott & Co., included this definition of arachnoiditis: “A faulty term, denoting inflammation of the arachnoid membrane”.
- In 1869 the famous neurologist, Dr. Charcot and his colleagues first described a syndrome we now call the disease, ARC. The causes of the disease were infections, primarily tuberculosis and syphilis.
- Dr. Addison, the physician who discovered adrenal failure, published his findings on 11 autopsied cases in 1855. Two cases had severe pain, atrophied adrenals and calcium deposits and fluid around the arachnoid layer, suggesting that long-standing, end-stage ARC was a likely cause of pain and adrenal failure.
- The first recorded attempt to treat AA was probably in 1781 when Dr. John Fothergill, a renowned British physician, treated a patient with severe back and sciatic pain who had other symptoms compatible with AA. Opioids had failed to relieve his patient’s pain, but he obtained positive results with a mercury concoction called calomel.
- Between about 1930 and 1990 pantopaque and other oil-insoluble dyes were infused into the spinal canal for diagnostic (myelogram) purposes. A small percentage of these patients developed AA and other neurologic complications.
- MRI’s replaced oil-based dyes in the late 1980’s, and AA subsequently became a rare, unappreciated disease.
- Beginning around the year 2000 an extended life span, with increasing rates of chronic painful spinal conditions such as herniated discs and arthritis along with the increasing use of invasive medical interventions and surgeries to treat them, began fueling a rise in the incidence and prevalence of AA that continues to this day.