Learning More About Transverse Myelitis

Transverse myelitis has received a great deal of attention recently as it has been mentioned in connection with the COVID-19 vaccine trials. To help our community better understand this condition, Jamaica Hospital is providing you with the following facts.

Transverse myelitis is a rare neurological condition that occurs when both sides of the same section of the spinal cord becomes inflamed, causing damage to the myelin, the fatty substance that covers the nerves. Loss of myelin often leads to spinal cord scarring that blocks nerve impulses and results in physical problems. Transverse myelitis can affect people of any age, but it is most common in children ages 10 to 19 and in adults ages 30 to 39.

The exact cause of transverse myelitis is unknown, but many believe it can develop as a side effect of a number of other conditions, including:

  • Lyme disease
  • Measles
  • Syphilis
  • Viral or bacterial infections

Other potential causes could be the result of spinal injuries, spinal malformations, or vascular diseases like atherosclerosis, all of which can reduce the amount of oxygen in spinal cord tissue.  Transverse myelitis can also be a warning sign of multiple sclerosis.

Some of the symptoms of transverse myelitis include:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Weakness in arms or legs
  • Abnormal feelings in the legs, such as burning, tingling, or pricking
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Heightened sensitivity to touch

Symptoms can develop over several hours or days, or over a longer period of one to two weeks.

There is no cure for transverse myelitis. Treatment focuses on relieving the inflammation that causes the symptoms. High doses of steroids, which suppress the activity of the immune system, are the most common treatments. Your doctor may also recommend pain-relieving drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen and plenty of bed rest.

Recovery from transverse myelitis usually begins from two to 12 weeks after first experiencing symptoms and can take up to two years. Approximately one-third of those with transverse myelitis have full or near-full recovery. Another third have fair recovery, retaining some of their symptoms. The last third recover poorly and experience significant physical disabilities.

Your doctor will likely review your medical history and perform a complete physical examination to confirm a diagnosis. If you are experiencing any symptoms associated with transverse myelitis and would like to make an appointment with a neurologist at Jamaica Hospital, please call 718-206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.