What are the symptoms and treatment options for transverse myelitis?

Symptom Database

Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder characterized by inflammation of the spinal cord. It is considered an autoimmune condition, as the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in the spinal cord, leading to myelopathy. This condition can cause a range of symptoms and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. In this article, we will explore the symptoms and treatment options for transverse myelitis.

Symptoms of Transverse Myelitis

The symptoms of transverse myelitis can vary from person to person, depending on the location and extent of the inflammation in the spinal cord. Some common symptoms include:

  • Weakness or paralysis in the arms or legs
  • Sensory disturbances, such as numbness or tingling
  • Pain or discomfort in the back or neck
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance
  • Muscle spasms or stiffness

These symptoms can develop suddenly or progress gradually over time. In some cases, individuals may experience a complete loss of sensation and movement below the level of the inflammation.

Diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis

Diagnosing transverse myelitis involves a thorough evaluation of the patient’s medical history, physical examination, and various diagnostic tests. The healthcare provider will assess the symptoms and perform a neurological examination to check for any abnormalities in reflexes, muscle strength, and sensation.

Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are commonly used to visualize the spinal cord and identify any inflammation or damage. Additionally, blood tests may be conducted to rule out other potential causes of the symptoms, such as infections or autoimmune disorders.

Treatment Options for Transverse Myelitis

While there is no cure for transverse myelitis, treatment focuses on managing symptoms, reducing inflammation, and promoting recovery. The specific treatment plan may vary depending on the individual’s symptoms and the underlying cause of the condition.

1. Medications

Medications are often prescribed to manage pain, reduce inflammation, and suppress the immune system’s response. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to alleviate pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation in the spinal cord.

In some cases, immunosuppressive drugs, such as azathioprine or mycophenolate mofetil, may be recommended to suppress the immune system and prevent further damage to the spinal cord.

2. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in the rehabilitation of individuals with transverse myelitis. A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to improve strength, flexibility, and mobility. They may also teach techniques to manage muscle spasms and improve balance.

Additionally, occupational therapy can help individuals regain independence in daily activities and provide strategies to adapt to any physical limitations caused by the condition.

3. Assistive Devices

Assistive devices can enhance mobility and independence for individuals with transverse myelitis. Depending on the specific needs, devices such as wheelchairs, braces, or walkers may be recommended. These devices can provide support and stability, allowing individuals to move around more comfortably.

4. Pain Management

Chronic pain is a common symptom of transverse myelitis. Pain management techniques, such as medications, nerve blocks, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), may be utilized to alleviate discomfort and improve the individual’s quality of life.

5. Psychological Support

Living with transverse myelitis can be emotionally challenging. Psychological support, such as counseling or support groups, can help individuals cope with the emotional and psychological impact of the condition. It provides a safe space to share experiences, learn coping strategies, and receive support from others facing similar challenges.


Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder characterized by inflammation of the spinal cord. It can cause a range of symptoms, including weakness, sensory disturbances, and loss of bladder or bowel control. While there is no cure for transverse myelitis, various treatment options are available to manage symptoms, reduce inflammation, and promote recovery. Medications, physical therapy, assistive devices, pain management techniques, and psychological support can all play a significant role in improving the quality of life for individuals with transverse myelitis.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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