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Transverse Myelitis

About Transverse Myelitis

Transverse Myelitis is a neurological condition in which an area of the spinal cord becomes inflamed. The inflammation occurs in the insulating material that covers a nerve and this is called ‘myelin’. The inflammation damages the myelin resulting in injury to the nerve preventing it from functioning properly.

The word ‘transverse’ describes the position of inflammation across the width of the spinal cord. Therefore depending on where the actual inflammation occurs in the spinal cord, will determine which parts of the body are affected. Usually, inflammation will occur in the thoracic area of the spine, which is located in the upper back. Damage to one area of the spinal cord will affect that area and the areas below it.

A person will show signs of spinal cord dysfunction within several hours, which can last up to several weeks.

Symptoms of Transverse Myelitis

  • Pain - can begin suddenly in the neck or back and may shoot down the arms, chest, abdomen and legs dependent upon where the inflammation occurs.

  • Sensation changes - a person may experience sensations of numbness, tingling, burning or coldness.

  • Weakness - a person may find their legs feel heavy and walking can become laboured. Stumbling can occur as the feet may point downwards when walking. Some may develop stiffness or spasticity in their muscles. Paralysis can occur in more severe cases.

  • Bladder and bowel problems - control and function of the bladder and bowel may become impaired.


Is recovery possible?

Depending upon the severity of inflammation, a person can make a full recovery, although some may suffer from more significant impairments.

The exact cause of transverse myelitis is unknown; however, viruses, infections, multiple sclerosis or immune system disorders are often implicated in its cause. It can occur at any age, in any gender, however most will only suffer from one episode.

Depending upon the severity, anti-inflammatory drugs, medications to treat the symptoms and rehabilitation therapy are the main forms of treatment. The intervention of orthotics may be required if there are issues with walking, muscle stiffness and spasticity.