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Prisma Health Children's Hospital–Midlands

7 Richland Medical Park Dr.
Columbia, SC 29203

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Transverse Myelitis

Transverse myelitis is a condition caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. As a result, the covering (myelin sheath) around the nerve cells is damaged. This disturbs the signals between spinal nerves and rest of the body. Transverse myelitis can cause pain, muscle weakness, paralysis, and bladder or bowel problems.

Transverse myelitis is a rare nervous system disorder. In many cases, the cause is unknown. However, certain conditions may lead to transverse myelitis:

  • Bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal infection, such as HIV, syphilis, varicella zoster (shingles), West Nile virus, Zika virus, enteroviruses, and Lyme disease
  • Immune system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Sjögren syndrome, and lupus
  • Other inflammatory disorders, such as sarcoidosis, or a connective tissue disease called scleroderma
  • Blood vessel disorders that affect the spine

Transverse myelitis affects men and women of all ages and races.


Symptoms of transverse myelitis may develop within a few hours or days. Or, they may develop over 1 to 4 weeks. Symptoms can quickly become severe. Symptoms tend to occur at or below the damaged area of the spinal cord. Both sides of the body are often affected, but sometimes only one side is affected.

Symptoms include:

  • Abnormal sensations:
    • Numbness
    • Pricking
    • Tingling
    • Coldness
    • Burning
    • Sensitivity to touch or temperature
  • Bowel and bladder symptoms:
    • Constipation
    • Frequent need to urinate
    • Difficulty holding urine
    • Urine leakage (incontinence)
  • Pain:
    • Sharp or blunt
    • May start in your lower back
    • May shoot down your arms and legs or wrap around your trunk or chest
  • Muscle weakness:
    • Loss of balance
    • Difficulty walking (stumbling or dragging your feet)
    • Partial loss of function, which may develop into paralysis

NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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