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Transverse myelitis is an inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord. This neurological disorder often damages the insulating material covering nerve cell fibers (myelin).
This article is written by Mayo Clinic Staff. Find more health and medical information on mayoclinic.org.
Transverse myelitis interrupts the messages that the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. This can cause pain, muscle weakness, paralysis, sensory problems, or bladder and bowel dysfunction.
There are many different causes of transverse myelitis, including infections and immune system disorders that attack the body's tissues. It could also be caused by other myelin disorders, such as multiple sclerosis. Other conditions, such as a stroke of the spinal cord, are often confused with transverse myelitis, and these conditions require different treatment approaches.
Watch: Dr. Eoin Flanagan, a Mayo Clinic neurologist, discusses transverse myelitis.
Journalists: Broadcast-quality video sound bites with Dr. Eoin Flanagan are in the downloads at the end of this post. Please courtesy "Eoin Flanagan, M.B., B.Ch. / Neurology / Mayo Clinic."
Treatment for transverse myelitis includes medications and rehabilitative therapy. Most people with transverse myelitis recover at least partially. Those with severe attacks sometimes are left with major disabilities.
Signs and symptoms of transverse myelitis usually develop over a few hours to a few days and may sometimes progress gradually over several weeks.
Transverse myelitis usually affects both sides of the body below the affected area of the spinal cord, but sometimes there are symptoms on just one side of the body.
Typical signs and symptoms include:
Call your health care provider or get emergency medical care if you're experiencing signs and symptoms of transverse myelitis. A number of neurological disorders can cause sensory problems, weakness, and bladder or bowel dysfunction including compression of the spinal cord, which is a surgical emergency.
Another less common cause is a stroke of the spinal cord due to impaired blood circulation. This can be caused by blockage of a blood vessel that supplies blood to the spinal cord, which may occur with surgery of the aorta or increased clotting of the blood. It's important to get a prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
The exact reason for transverse myelitis is not known. Sometimes there is no known cause.
Viral, bacterial and fungal infections affecting the spinal cord may cause transverse myelitis. In most cases, the inflammatory disorder appears after recovery from the infection.
Viruses associated with transverse myelitis are:
Other viruses may trigger an autoimmune reaction without directly infecting the spinal cord.
Bacterial infections that are associated with transverse myelitis include:
Bacterial skin infections, gastroenteritis and certain types of bacterial pneumonia also may cause transverse myelitis.
Rarely, parasites and fungal infections may infect the spinal cord.
There are a number of inflammatory conditions that appear to cause the disorder:
People with transverse myelitis usually experience only one episode. However, complications often linger, including the following:
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