Inflammation of the spinal cord can cause a neurological disorder called transverse myelitis (TM). “Transverse�? describes where the inflammation occurs—across the width of one segment of the spinal cord—while “myelitis�? refers to the inflammation of the spinal cord itself.
When the spinal cord becomes inflamed, myelin, and insulating material that covers nerve cell fibers, is destroyed. This causes scars, which disrupt communication between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body.
Symptoms of TM
The main symptom of TM is loss of spinal cord function over a period of several hours to several weeks. TM may begin with relatively minor back pain, progress to muscle weakness and odd feelings in the toes and feet, and can rapidly become more severe, eventually resulting in paralysis.
Causes of TM
While no one is sure what causes TM, there are many hypotheses. Possible causes include:
- Viral infections, often due to the viruses that cause Chicken Pox and Shingles
- Viral infections due to herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, influenza, HIV, hepatits A, or rubella
- Bacterial skin infections
- Middle ear infections
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Abnormal immune reactions
- Poor blood flow through the blood vessels in the spinal cord
- A complication from syphilis, measles, Lyme disease, and some vaccinations
Treatment of TM
There is no cure for TM, so symptoms are managed with the intent of keeping inflammation at bay. Patients with paralysis will often enter rehabilitation. Some people will completely recover from TM, while others will experience long-term disability.