Ex-springbok André Venter (36) is paraplegic, struck down earlier this year with the condition transverse myelitis. What is this disease and what causes it?
What is transverse myelitis?
Transverse myelitis is a disease of the spinal cord that can result in paralysis. It involves the breakdown of the myelin sheath, the insulation layer around the spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system.
There are various possible causes: certain viral and bacterial infections, immune system diseases, and disorders of the spinal blood vessels.
Transverse myelitis may be associated with multiple scelrosis, which also involves breakdown of the myelin sheath, but is thought to be a dictinct illness.
Transverse myelitis typically strikes suddenly, as rapidly as within 24 hours, causing back pain - usually the lower back – and weakness, numbness or tingling in the legs. Less commonly, if the affected area is higher up in the spinal column, there may also be arm weakness.
Other potential symptoms include headache, loss of appetite, loss of bladder and bowel control, and general loss of sensation in the area below the point of spinal damage.
Many patients report tight girdle-like sensation around the trunk and that area may be very sensitive to touch.
There is currently no cure for transverse myelitis, and no specific treatment. There is some degree of recovery, but most patients are left with disability – many with paraplegia (paralysis of the legs). There may be other permanent problems such as poor bowel control or sexual dysfunction.
In Venter's case, he has had no feeling in his legs since he became ill in mid-July, and is confined to a wheelchair. In an interview with Rapport, Venter said that he nonetheless feels that he is making progress through his rehabilitation programme.
- Health24, September 2006
Van Wyk, Maryna. Bok lig sluier oor sy verlam-siekte. Rapport, 2 September 2006
Reviewed by Dr Andrew Rose-Innes, Assistant Professor of Neurology, University of Washington