Transverse Myelitis is a pathologic inflammatory condition of the spinal cord in a transverse fashion, which means it affects the spinal cord in levels that correspond to the vertebrae as opposed to affecting the spinal cord in a lengthwise fashion.

Transverse myelitis typically occurs between the ages of 15 and 55 years.  It may occur after an infection, or may present spontaneously.

Signs and symptoms include pain in the back, sometimes radiating pain down the legs or arms, muscle weakness, sensory deficits, numbness, tingling, fever, rash, neck pain and stiffness, urinary retention, urinary hesitation, or urinary overflow incontinence. There is usually a rapid progression of symptoms, reaching its maximum at about 24 hours after onset. It can affect all levels of the spinal cord, but is most common in the thoracic area.

CT, Myelogram, and MRI usually do not show anything specific to this diagnosis. However, special MRI sequences may be able to show inflammatory changes in the spinal cord. Treatment is based on the cause of the inflammation. Temporary treatment with steroids is often used to reduce inflammation.

Lindsey Parker, PA-C and Justin F. Fraser, MD


Rengachary, S. Ellenbogen, R. (2005) Principles of Neurosurgery, 2nd edition. Elsevier Mosby, New York: NY