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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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The Causes of MS
January 2000

Q. I would like an honest opinion on the cause of MS. My sister has recently been diagnosed with MS just a few months after undergoing surgery (outpatient surgery) where she wasn't put to sleep but an epidural was done. After the surgery, she began to feel very very ill and could hardly function; her spinal fluid was leaking. She finally decided to go back to the hospital where they patched her. She sort of recovered until this MS attack. In your expert opinion, could there be a relation between the two?

A. While no one knows the exact cause of multiple sclerosis, I think it is very safe to say that your sister's surgery did not cause her illness. Still, there may be a relationship between the two. First, let's consider the fact millions of Americans have surgery each year, and essentially none of them develop multiple sclerosis. In addition, of all of the people who develop MS, very few if any develop the disease immediately following surgery. So it appears, using these observations, that your sister's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and the surgery occurred at the same time by coincidence, rather than cause and effect.

It is possible, however, that your sister had borderline multiple sclerosis (she was about to develop the symptoms of multiple sclerosis sometime soon) and the trauma of surgery was enough of a stress to have that multiple sclerosis manifest just a little bit earlier. From our best understanding of the disease, MS takes quite a long time to develop and certainly cannot be induced by surgery. You can learn more about multiple sclerosis at: http://www.nmss.org/

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