Transverse Myelitis

To find patient care programs and faculty treating Transverse Myelitis at Kennedy Krieger Institute, please see the right-hand column below. Additional helpful information, including definitions, symptoms, Institute press releases, Potential magazine articles, and other resources outside the Institute, have also been provided for readers on this page.

Transverse Myelitis (TM) is a disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. It is characterized by symptoms and signs of neurologic dysfunction in motor and sensory tracts on both sides of the spinal cord. The word transverse indicates dysfunction at a particular level across the spinal cord but this term may be considered misleading as there is not always complete anatomical damage across the cord. Rather there may be focal inflammation that produces asymmetric spinal cord dysfunction below the level affected while function above the level is normal. Therefore some clinicians frequently prefer to use the term myelitis.

There are four classic symptoms of TM including

  • Weakness in the arms and/or legs
  • Sensory symptoms such as numbness or tingling
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Bladder dysfunction and/or bowel motility problems.

These symptoms may be symmetric or asymmetric affecting either legs, arms or both.

TM can exist as part of a central nervous system disease (e.g., multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica), a central nervous system infection (e.g., syphilis, Lyme disease, HIV, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I, Mycoplasma, herpes viruses), a multi-system disease (e.g., systemic lupus erythematosus, sarcoidosis, Sjögren syndrome, Behçet disease), or as an isolated idiopathic entity.

Although many patients recover from transverse myelitis with minor or no residual problems, many others suffer permanent impairments that affect their ability to perform ordinary tasks of daily living.