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Background: Volatile anaesthetics are chemically related to organic solvents used in industry. Exposure to industrial solvents may increase the incidence of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Aim: To examine the risk among nurse anaesthetists of contracting MS.
Methods: Nurses with MS were identified by an appeal in the monthly magazine of the Swedish Nurse Union and a magazine of the Neurological Patients Association in Sweden. Ninety nurses with MS responded and contacted our clinic. They were given a questionnaire, which was filled in by 85 subjects; 13 of these were nurse anaesthetists. The questionnaire requested information about work tasks, exposure, diagnosis, symptoms, and year. The number of active nurse anaesthetists was estimated based on information from the National Board of Health and Welfare and The Nurse Union. Incidence data for women in the region of Gothenburg and Denmark were used as the reference to estimate the risk by calculation of the standardised incidence ratio (SIR).
Results: Eleven of the 13 nurse anaesthetists were exposed to anaesthetic gases before onset of MS. Mean duration of exposure before diagnosis was 14.4 years (range 4–27 years). Ten cases were diagnosed in the study period 1980–99, resulting in significantly increased SIRs of 2.9 and 2.8 with the Gothenburg and the Danish reference data, respectively.
Conclusion: Although based on crude data and a somewhat approximate analysis, this study provides preliminary evidence for an excess risk of MS in nurse anaesthetists. The risk may be even greater than observed, as the case ascertainment might have been incomplete because of the crude method applied. Further studies in this respect are clearly required to more definitely assess the risk.