Transverse Myelitis

What is Transverse Myelitis?

Transverse myelitis is when a single section of your spinal cord gets inflamed on both sides. Transverse myelitis is a progressive neurological disease that harms the protective covering of nerve cell fibers. These fibers are called myelin. The condition changes how the spinal cord sends and receives sensory messages between your brain and body.

Signs and Symptoms

Transverse myelitis symptoms typically impact both sides of your body below the affected section of your spinal cord. However, sometimes the condition affects only one side of your body.

Symptoms of transverse myelitis include:

  • Bowel and Bladder issues—You may feel the urge to use the restroom more regularly or difficulty using the restroom.
  • Unusual body sensations—You might experience a sensitivity to touch, tingling, or temperature changes in your body. Some people feel like a tight band is squeezing their body.
  • Pain—You may feel pain in your arms, legs, abdomen, or chest. Sudden pain may occur in your lower back. Where you feel pain is often determined by which section of your spinal cord is afflicted.
  • Arm or leg weakness—Heaviness, extreme weakness, or paralysis might occur.


Transverse myelitis causes include bacterial, viral, and inflammatory conditions. However, there is no known precise cause.

Bacterial causes:

  • Diphtheria
  • Actinomyces
  • Pertussis
  • Lyme disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Syphilis
  • Tetanus

Viral causes:

  • Herpes
  • Influenza
  • Rubella
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein-Barr
  • HIV
  • Enteroviruses
  • Hepatitis B
  • Mumps
  • West Nile
  • Zika
  • Measles
  • Echovirus

Inflammatory condition causes:

  • Neuromyelitis optica — Known as Devic's disease, this condition leads to inflammation and reduction of myelin.
  • Vaccinations — There is some correlation between infectious disease vaccinations and transverse myelitis.
  • Multiple sclerosis — In this disorder, the immune system eliminates myelin in your spinal cord and brain.
  • Sarcoidosis — This condition results in inflammation throughout your body.
  • Autoimmune disorders — Doctors believe autoimmune disorders might contribute to the development of transverse myelitis.

Risk Factors

Transverse myelitis is a rare disease that can affect anyone of any age. However, there are a few risk factors associated with the condition.

Risk factors of transverse myelitis:

  • Being between the age of 10-19.
  • Being between the age of 30-39.
  • Children appear at higher risk.
  • Experiencing an inflammatory condition.
  • Experiencing certain bacterial or viral infections.
  • Having high levels of immune protein (Il-6) may put you at higher risk.


Your doctor will start with a routine medical exam, where you will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Then, your doctor will conduct tests to make a transverse myelitis diagnosis.

Diagnostic tests for transverse myelitis:

  • Blood tests — Your doctor may perform tests to look for antibodies related to inflammation disorders, to identify infections, and to help eliminate other possible conditions.
  • Imaging test — Your doctor might use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify inflammation on your spinal cord.
  • Spinal tap — Your doctor performs a lumbar puncture by using a needle to obtain spinal fluid for further examination.


Transverse myelitis treatment depends on your specific symptoms, health, and the underlying cause of your disorder.

Possible treatment options:

  • Antiviral medication — This medication helps treat viral infections on your spinal cord.
  • Plasma exchange therapy — In this therapy, doctors remove existing plasma and replace it with other fluids.
  • Pain medications — These medications help reduce chronic pain that often results from transverse myelitis.
  • Intravenous steroids — Steroids treat inflammation of your spinal cord.
  • Preventive medications — These medications help reduce or prevent future inflammation of your spinal cord.
  • Other medications — Your doctor may ask you to take medications to treat symptoms of transverse myelitis such as bladder issues or depression.

Transverse myelitis prognosis depends on your health, the severity of your symptoms, and the underlying conditions. However, most people with the condition achieve partial recovery within the first year of treatment. Transverse myelitis recovery time varies, but many people experience most of their recovery within the first three months of treatment.


It is common for individuals with transverse myelitis to develop the condition only once. There are, however, possible lingering complications.

Complications include:

  • Paralysis — Some people experience partial or total paralysis in their appendages.
  • Sexual troubles — Men and woman can have difficulty reaching orgasm. Men might experience trouble getting an erection.
  • Muscle issues — You may experience spasms, tightness, or stiffness in your muscles.
  • Mood disorder — Long-term pain and life changes can result in anxiety and depression.
  • Pain — Chronic pain is a common complication of transverse myelitis.

Next Steps with MyChart

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