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What Is Transverse Myelitis?




Transverse myelitis is a rare neurological disorder of the spine that is caused by inflammation across the spinal cord.

Inflammation is usually a protective response, which generally includes swelling, pain, heat, and redness. However, in the case of transverse myelitis, the inflammatory response causes damage to the spinal cord, resulting in varying degrees of weakness, sensory symptoms, and autonomic dysfunction. The symptoms and dysfunction that occurs is usually dependent on the level of the spine where the inflammation is located.

Transverse myelitis is believed to be linked to the immune system. It is possible that the immune system is attacking the body’s own spinal cord. Unfortunately, the immune system can attack rapidly without warning, resulting in devastating impairment.

Transverse myelitis generally occurs on a single occasion. However, a small number of individuals may experience a recurrence.

Transverse myelitis is sometimes associated with other diseases, such as systemic autoimmune diseases. Systematic immune diseases include diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosis and sarcoidosis.

What do the different transverse myelitis terms mean?

There are quite a few different ways that people (and physicians) refer to transverse myelitis. Transverse myelitis has been referred to as a disorder, disease, condition, and syndrome.

Below is an explanation of the various terms.

    • What is Myelitis?: Indicates inflammation of the spinal cord.
    • What does Transverse mean?: Indicates that the inflammation is positioned across the width of the spinal cord.
    • What is Transverse Myelitis?: Spinal Cord inflammation that is positioned across the width of the spinal cord.
    • What is Acute Transverse Myelitis?: Indicates an acute (rapid onset) of spinal cord inflammation that is positioned across the width of the spinal cord.
    • What is Partial Transverse Myelitis?: Indicates spinal cord inflammation that is positioned across partial width of the spinal cord.
    • What is Acute Partial Transverse Myelitis?: Indicates an acute (rapid onset)of spinal cord inflammation that is positioned across partial width of the spinal cord.
    • Myelopathy: A term used to refer to any disorder of the spinal cord (including transverse myelitis).

What’s actually happening in the spinal cord?

Transverse myelitis affects the grey and white matter of the spinal cord. It can affect the entire thickness of the spinal cord.


The damage to the spinal cord can result in a lost or fuzzy signal between the brain and parts of the body. Therefore, symptoms of transverse myelitis are highly dependent on the location and severity of the spinal cord damage.

The following list outlines which section of the spine relays signals to which parts of the body:

      • cervical (neck) nerves: relay signals to neck, arms, hands, and breathing muscles
      • thoracic (upper back) nerves: relay signals to torso and arms.
      • lumbar (mid-back) nerves: relay signals to hips and legs.
      • sacral nerves: relay signals to groin, toes, and legs.

Generally, damage at one segment of the spinal accord will affect functions at that segment and the segments located below it.

How common is Transverse Myelitis?

Transverse myelitis is a rare disorder. Approximately one to five new cases per mission people per year are diagnosed.

Transverse myelitis can affect all persons, regardless of gender, age, or race. However, it most commonly affects individuals between the ages of 10 and 10, and 30 and 39.

How severe is Transverse Myelitis?

The severity of transverse myelitis is highly dependent on the extent of the inflammation of the spinal cord. The severity is also impacted by the level of the spinal cord that is affected by the inflammation. Typically, the higher the spinal cord is affected, the more severe the impairment. For example, inflammation at the C5 level will generally result in more severe impairment than inflammation at the T1 level.