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What is Transverse Myelitis?

Spinal Injuries Australia is the Australasian affiliate of the TM Association in the USA, with TM Networks based in Australia and New Zealand.

Transverse Myelitis, or TM, is a neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one level, or segment, of the spinal cord. The term ‘myelitis’ refers to inflammation of the spinal cord; ‘transverse’ simply describes the position of the inflammation, that is, across the width of the spinal cord. Attacks of inflammation can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers. This damage causes nervous system scars that interrupt communications between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body.

Who gets TM?

TM occurs in adults and children, in both genders, and in all races. No familial predisposition is apparent.

What causes TM?

Researchers are uncertain of the exact causes of Transverse Myelitis. The inflammation that causes such extensive damage to nerve fibers of the spinal cord may result from viral infections, abnormal immune reactions, or insufficient blood flow through the blood vessels located in the spinal cord. Transverse Myelitis also may occur as a complication of syphilis, measles, Lyme disease, and some vaccinations, including those for chickenpox and rabies. Cases in which a cause cannot be identified are called idiopathic.

What are the symptoms of TM?

TM may be either acute (developing over hours to several days) or subacute (developing over 1 to 2 weeks). Symptoms vary but can include:

  • lower back pain
  • headache, fever and loss of appetite
  • abnormal sensations such as burning, tickling, prickling, or tingling in the legs
  • sensory loss
  • muscle spasms
  • partial paralysis of the legs

How is Transverse Myelitis diagnosed?

Physicians diagnose TM by taking a medical history and performing a thorough neurological examination.

How is TM treated?

As with many disorders of the spinal cord, no effective cure currently exists for people with TM. Treatments are designed to manage and alleviate symptoms and largely depend upon the severity of neurological involvement.