WHAT IS TRANSVERSE MYELITIS?
Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one level, or segment, of the spinal cord. The
term myelitis refers to inflammation of the spinal cord; transverse simply describes the position of the inflammation, that is, across the
width of the spinal cord. Attacks of inflammation can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers.
This damage causes nervous system scars that interrupt communications between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body.
Symptoms of transverse myelitis include a loss of spinal cord function over several hours to several weeks. What usually begins as a sudden
onset of lower back pain, muscle weakness, or abnormal sensations in the toes and feet can rapidly progress to more severe symptoms,
including paralysis, urinary retention, and loss of bowel control. Although some patients recover from transverse myelitis with minor or no
residual problems, others suffer permanent impairments that affect their ability to perform ordinary tasks of daily living. Most patients will
have only one episode of transverse myelitis; a small percentage may have a recurrence.
The segment of the spinal cord at which the damage occurs determines which parts of the body are affected. Nerves in the cervical (neck)
region control signals to the neck, arms, hands, and muscles of breathing (the diaphragm). Nerves in the thoracic (upper back) region relay
signals to the torso and some parts of the arms. Nerves at the lumbar (mid-back) level control signals to the hips and legs. Finally, sacral
nerves, located within the lowest segment of the spinal cord, relay signals to the groin, toes, and some parts of the legs. Damage at one
segment will affect function at that segment and segments below it. In patients with transverse myelitis, demyelination usually occurs at the
thoracic level, causing problems with leg movement and bowel and bladder control, which require signals from the lower segments of the
WHO GETS TRANSVERSE MYELITIS?
Transverse myelitis occurs in adults and children, in both genders, and in all races. No familial predisposition is apparent. A peak in incidence
rates (the number of new cases per year) appears to occur between 10 and 19 years and 30 and 39 years. Although only a few studies
have examined incidence rates, it is estimated that about 1,400 new cases of transverse myelitis are diagnosed each year in the United
States, and approximately 33,000 Americans have some type of disability resulting from the disorder.
This information was taken from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke's website.