Updated 22 May 2015

Transverse myelitis

Transverse myelitis is inflammation of part of the spinal cord.



Transverse myelitis refers to an inflammation of a segment of the spinal cord. It may occur alone or in combination with demyelination in other parts of the nervous system. Onset of the disorder is sudden.


Transverse myelitis may be caused by viral infections, spinal cord injuries, immune reactions or insufficient blood flow through the blood vessels in the spinal cord. It may also occur as a complication of such disorders as optic neuromyelitis, multiple sclerosis, smallpox, measles or chickenpox.


Symptoms may include back pain, weakness of the legs, numbness and tingling in the lower part of the body, and bowel, bladder and sexual dysfunction.


In general, recovery from transverse myelitis is dependent on its cause and varies from good to poor. Recovery may take several months to occur.

Some individuals may have minor or no deficits, while others may have significant motor sensory, and sphincter (bowel) deficits. Some individuals show no recovery at all.


Treatment is also dependent on the specific cause of the myelitis. Inflammatory conditions (like multiple sclerosis) may respond to steroid therapy.

Reviewed by Dr Andrew Rose-Innes, MD, Department of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven.


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