Transverse myelitis – common symptoms of spinal condition including trouble weeing

It’s Transverse Myelitis Awareness Day. Here’s everything you need to know about the rare condition affecting the spinal cord, including its common symptoms and causes

Onset of transverse myelitis symptoms often happens between 24-48 hours

Every year, June 9 is marked as Transverse Myelitis Awareness Day, a day held to raise awareness about the rare condition caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.

With no known cure, the disorder affects motor and sensory parts on both sides of the spinal cord, causing neurological symptoms impacting various functions and parts of our bodies.

The condition affects all age groups from young children to older people. It has nothing to do with family history, gender or race.

Here’s everything you need to know about transverse myelitis (TM), including common symptoms as well as causes of the condition.

What are common symptoms of transverse myelitis?

Symptoms of transverse myelitis progression from back pain to bladder and bowel problems


(Getty Images/EyeEm)

There are four classic symptoms of transverse myelitis:

  • Pain – Transverse myelitis may be begin as a sharp pain that starts suddenly in your lower back, shooting down your legs or arms or around your chest or abdomen. Where you experience symptoms of pain can vary depending on which part of your spinal cord has been affected.
  • Weakness in arms or legs – Some people with TM notice heaviness in one or both legs. They may find themselves stumbling or dragging one foot. Coordination or strength of hands and arms may also be affected for certain people. In some cases, people may even develop severe weakness or even total paralysis.
  • Abnormal sensations – Sensations of numbness, tingling, coldness or burning are reported by some people with TM. Some are even sensitive to the touch of clothing, as well as extreme heat or cold. You might also feel like something is tightly wrapping the skin of your chest, abdomen, or legs.
  • Bladder and bowel problems – This includes needing to urinate more frequently, urinary incontinence, difficulty urinating and constipation.

Symptoms of transverse myelitis can progress rapidly from pain and muscle weakness to bladder and bowel problems, with onset typically happening over a few short hours, often just 24-48 hours.

However, for some people symptoms may develop slowly over several days, weeks or months.

What are the causes of transverse myelitis?

In younger patients, transverse myelitis may be an early indication of other spinal cord disorders


(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

For 60% cases of transverse myelitis, the cause remains unknown. However, for 40% of people – especially younger patients – the cause of the condition is linked to autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica, systemic lupus erythematous, Sjogren’s syndrome and sarcoidosis, among others.

Sometimes other spinal cord conditions like a spinal cord stroke or vascular myelopathy may be confused with TM. It’s important to consult a doctor if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of TM.

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