Transverse Myelitis: All You Need to Know

man feeling back pain because of transverse myelitis

Inflammation is the root of several debilitating conditions, including transverse myelitis. This disease attacks the spine. Although its exact causes are unknown, transverse myelitis has many potential contributors, from vaccines to autoimmune disorders.

People with transverse myelitis endure severe pain and muscle weakness that may lead to disabilities. Although not everyone will recover fully, there is hope for people suffering from transverse myelitis. Several effective treatments can help those with the illness recover to some degree.

Keep reading to learn essential information about transverse myelitis, including its causes, symptoms, potential complications, and treatments. If you’ve developed transverse myelitis, Sadaka Law can help.

What Is Transverse Myelitis?

Transverse myelitis is an inflammatory disorder that attacks both sides of the spinal cord. Inflammation occurs in the same section and damages the myelin sheath covering the nerve cell fibers.

As the myelin wears down and inflammation increases, the disease disrupts communication between the spinal cord and other areas of the body. This disruption can result in potentially crippling symptoms.

The first instances of transverse myelitis appeared in 1882. Throughout the early 1900s, medical professionals mistook symptoms of this condition for complications of smallpox and other vaccines. Later, complications from other illnesses led to TM’s classification as a separate disease.

The term became official in 1948, with further distinctions from other non-inflammatory spinal cord injuries occurring in 2002.

Transverse Myelitis Symptoms

woman laying on a sofa feeling weak

Transverse myelitis symptoms appear and gradually worsen. Some individuals may develop symptoms over a few days, while it takes weeks for others to develop severe symptoms. Typically, this disorder causes symptoms on both sides of the body, but signs may only appear on one side in rare cases.

The most common symptoms of transverse myelitis include:

  • Pain shooting down the limbs or to the chest and abdomen: The lower back is the most common spot for inflammation. Depending on the inflamed area’s location, you could have different pain symptoms. Some people may lose feeling below the spinal cord, while others may experience a tight sensation.
  • Weakness in the extremities: As the inflammation worsens, arm and leg muscle weakness is another primary symptom that could result in paralysis. Mild cases may make limbs feel heavy or cause movement problems. Paralysis most commonly occurs in the legs, while the arms may still move properly depending on the severity.
  • Strange physical sensations such as tingling or heat sensitivity: While not as common, some people suffering from transverse myelitis experience peculiar body sensations. Some people feel their body tingling or burning, while others feel pressure and friction against their skin. Others are sensitive to extreme temperatures.
  • Incontinence issues: Increased muscle weakness may affect the torso. You may need to use the bathroom more often, become incontinent, or have trouble controlling bowel and bladder muscles. Nearly all patients with TM suffer from this symptom.

No evidence suggests transverse myelitis targets a specific demographic or is genetic. Although you can get it regardless of age, there are two age ranges where developing transverse myelitis may be more likely. Ages range between ten and 19 for children and teen cases and between 30 and 39 years old in full-grown adults.

Causes of Transverse Myelitis

The exact cause of transverse myelitis is unknown. Scientists believe it’s an extreme autoimmune reaction but have not yet found a specific reason for this response. TM has occurred by itself and with other illnesses present.

Because of this condition’s unknown source, potential causes vary. Medical disorders including viruses, bacterial infections, and autoimmune diseases are possible contributors. Some reports of transverse myelitis have occurred after patients get certain vaccinations.

Other potential causes include vascularity issues restricting adequate blood flow to the spine. As a result, blood clots or burst blood vessels can occur. Few cases have occurred with cancer, although immune responses that fight off cancerous cells could trigger spinal inflammation.

Disorders Contributing to Transverse Myelitis

floating bacterias

Transverse myelitis symptoms often appear after recovering from an infection. Viral, bacterial, and inflammatory disorders may cause TM in patients due to heightened autoimmune awareness and stress.

Molecular mimicry in infectious bacteria and viruses may trigger the immune system to attack itself. Harmful microbes may contain a molecule that mimics the characteristics of a spinal cord molecule. The bacteria’s attack confuses the immune system, causing it to attack spinal cord molecules, damaging the spine’s myelin sheath and underlying nerves.


Several viruses can trigger transverse myelitis, especially those associated with rash-like symptoms. Potential viruses include sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and genital herpes. Oral herpes, Epstein-Barr, and hepatitis B may also cause transverse myelitis.

Influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, and enteroviruses are other TM causes. Viruses spread through mosquitoes such as West Nile Virus and Zika are other rash-related illnesses. Furthermore, cytomegalovirus is a virus that may cause TM in children.

Bacterial Infections

Due to molecular mimicry, evolving bacteria can easily trigger autoimmune responses such as those causing transverse myelitis.

Infections causing TM include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Syphilis

In rare cases, other types of bacterial infections may lead to TM. Gastroenteritis, bacterial skin infections, and parasites can cause TM. In addition, fungal infections in the spine with Blastomyces or Aspergillus are rare culprits.

Inflammatory Conditions

Several inflammatory diseases can cause TM, as inflammation is a direct response from the immune system. Inflammatory disorders that potentially cause transverse myelitis include:

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): Transverse myelitis is often the first indication of MS. With multiple sclerosis, your immune system automatically attacks your spinal cord and brain stem. The myelin sheath protecting the nerves has significant painful damage within days to weeks.
  • Sarcoidosis: Doctors don’t know much about this mysterious condition. Sarcoidosis causes inflammation in several areas of the body but develops faster than neuromyelitis optica. Inflammation tends to occur in the liver, lymph nodes, or lungs.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Autoimmune illnesses like lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome may cause transverse myelitis. With lower immunity, multiple body systems sustain damage. Lupus symptoms may include transverse myelitis, while Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune attack on the tear and salivary glands.
  • Devic’s disease: Neuromyelitis optica, or Devic’s disease, triggers myelin damage in the spinal cord and the optic nerve. As a result, people with Devic’s disease may experience vision loss with TM symptoms.

Vaccines That Could Cause Transverse Myelitis

vaccine bottles in a tray

Some patients have reported developing transverse myelitis symptoms after getting the influenza vaccination, hepatitis B booster, tetanus and diphtheria, and the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. However, no confirmed evidence exists that any of these vaccines have a connection with TM. Yet, theories suggest that the autoimmune response from vaccinations may trigger the symptoms and confuse the immune system.

If you suspect you or a family member developed transverse myelitis after getting one of these vaccines, consult with a vaccine injury law firm like Sadaka Law. If your case is eligible, we’ll provide a defense that supports your claim. We’ll also help you file a claim with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Complications from Transverse Myelitis

In addition to the main symptoms of TM, you may experience lasting complications. These complications vary in severity. Patients with severe transverse myelitis typically have worse difficulties.

  • Mental illness: Depression and anxiety are the primary mental conditions associated with this disease. The person who endures TM experiences a significant lifestyle change, with many people losing their mobility. Therefore, pain and other physical challenges can cause these mental health issues.
  • Pain: Pain is the main symptom of transverse myelitis, often lasting long after recovery. Damage to the myelin sheath causes lasting pain and unusual sensations. These sensations may make hot or cold temperatures more painful or increase skin sensitivity.
  • Muscle spasms: Pain and weakened muscles may cause muscle spasms or tightness, especially in the legs and buttocks.
  • Paralysis: The arms and legs may become paralyzed after symptoms like muscle weakness appear. Depending on the severity, paralysis may be temporary or permanent.
  • Sexual dysfunction: Due to weakened muscles, both men and women may struggle with sexual performance.

Diagnostic Process for Transverse Myelitis

a doctor conducting a blood test in her patient

Diagnosing transverse myelitis is relatively straightforward. Depending on your symptoms, doctors may perform the three following tests to determine whether you have TM or a different problem. They may need to perform all tests or only some to rule out certain conditions:

  • Bloodwork: Doctors take your blood to test for illnesses that may appear in the bloodstream. They’ll check vitamin and mineral levels and rule out infections. Conditions they can test for include sexually transmitted diseases and other diseases that damage the spine’s myelin sheath.
  • MRI or CT scan: A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computerized tomography (CT) scan gives medical professionals an in-depth look into your internal organs, bones, and tissues. They use these scans to view your spine and determine whether myelin degeneration is the issue. They can also see if another spine-related issue is causing your symptoms, such as a tumor.
  • Spinal tap: In some cases, a spinal tap or lumbar puncture helps determine the cause of TM symptoms. Your doctor will sample your cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) with a needle and test it. Depending on your white blood cell and protein count results, the spinal tap could reveal if you have a viral or bacterial infection.

Because transverse myelitis is not hereditary, doctors must rule out all potential environmental or autoimmune causes. Doctors will also gain insight into your medical history. Similar myelopathic conditions may cause similar symptoms but require different treatment.

A prompt and proper diagnosis is necessary to prevent further TM damage. Some patients worsen over a few days, while most take up to ten days to develop severe symptoms. Whether an autoimmune response is causing TM or a herniated disc is the issue, a fast diagnosis can significantly reduce the patient’s need for surgery.

Treatment for Transverse Myelitis

Transverse myelitis has many treatments but no cure. Myelin damage is irreversible, and some symptoms may result in inconvenient and painful complications.

Medical treatments include:

  •   Steroids
  •   Antiviral medication
  •   Plasma exchange therapy
  •   Medications to manage complications like pain and depression.

Nonmedical treatments are available. Bed rest, therapy, and other remedies can significantly facilitate your recovery.

In addition to medical recovery challenges, social and educational difficulties appear. Physical therapy, mental health therapy, and vocational therapy can help you recover after developing TM. Doctors encourage family members to help those with TM readjust to changed social aspects of life.

Your doctor may recommend several treatments depending on your condition’s severity. The earlier treatment begins, the better. Delaying treatment may result in skin breakdown or muscle issues causing limited mobility.

Steroid or Antiviral Medication

Steroid medication is one of the first treatments your doctor may recommend. Steroids decrease spinal inflammation. Methylprednisolone and dexamethasone are the most common steroids.

After steroidal treatment, your doctor may schedule another MRI to check your recovery progress. If they see no significant improvement, they will continue steroids or add additional treatments. If a virus is causing your TM symptoms, your doctor may recommend antiviral medications.

Both types of medications come in pill form. Getting steroid medication via injections or IV is also possible.

Medications to Manage Complications

medicine tablets and capsules

Several medications are ideal for managing transverse myelitis complications. Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Prescription and over-the-counter pain medications: Depending on the severity, you may get prescription pain medications to deal with lasting complications such as pain and strange bodily sensations. Mild cases may only warrant over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen.
  • Antidepressants: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) to help you cope with the new lifestyle and limitations of the disease. These medications may also help ease nerve pain.
  • Sexual dysfunction medications: Your doctor can prescribe medications to aid performance in the bedroom. Cialis and Viagra are top options.
  • Muscle relaxants: Muscle tightness and pain may increase paralysis or muscle weakness symptoms. Doctors can prescribe muscle relaxants to ease this tightness and pain.
  • Medication to control bladder and bowel function: Paralysis and muscle weakness causes many people to lose control of their urinary and excretory systems. Some medicines may improve muscle control in these areas.

Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG)

Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) involves receiving antibodies intravenously. Those with weaker immune systems can benefit considerably from extra antibodies. These additional antibodies can help them better fight infections causing transverse myelitis.

In IVIG therapy, those immune to transverse myelitis donate antibodies, and doctors inject them into your bloodstream. The new antibodies trigger the autoimmune attack, ultimately ending the cause of your transverse myelitis. Symptom management and proactive medical care can prevent another flare-up.

IVIG treatment results may vary as experts have performed few tests regarding its success. Instead of IVIG, you may get intravenous immunosuppressive injections such as cyclophosphamide, a cancer-fighting drug. This medication aggressively targets the offending cells triggering the autoimmune attack.

Plasma Exchange

If doctors can’t pinpoint the source of the autoimmune disruption, they may take more drastic action to ensure harmful bacteria or viruses are out of your system. Plasma exchange therapy (PLEX) is standard in severe cases of transverse myelitis.

Sometimes TM is difficult to treat without knowing the exact cause. If steroids fail to treat your spinal inflammation, plasma exchange therapy is an advanced treatment that may work.

With PLEX, healthy donors donate their plasma. Doctors filter plasma from your blood and replace it with non-infected plasma. If your transverse myelitis symptoms are from a bloodborne disease like HIV or lupus, removing your plasma and replacing it with healthy plasma should prevent further symptoms.

If your symptoms persist or worsen after treatment, additional treatments may be necessary. Or, you may have a condition unrelated to transverse myelitis.

Ventilator and Breathing Tube

medical ventilator at a hospital

For some, physical sensations, muscle weakness, paralysis, and pain from transverse myelitis can make it challenging to breathe. In extreme cases, you may need a ventilator and breathing tube. This machine will ensure you get ample oxygen without increasing muscle strain.

Bladder and Bowel Treatments

Those with TM experience reduced bladder function about three weeks after first developing symptoms. To treat incontinence, doctors may prescribe timed urination, a catheter, incontinence underwear, or surgery. Your doctor will help you decide on the best treatment.

Bowel control also decreases after the first weeks of TM symptoms. However, you can resolve incontinence by using stool softeners, fiber, strategic diet planning, and rectal stimulation. Additional treatments like suppositories or medications may also be effective.

Surgical treatment for bowel control is rare. Your doctor may perform regular checks to ensure no severe complications occur from bowel evacuation problems.

Muscle Treatments

Controlling muscle spasms and tightness while maintaining flexibility is challenging for many patients. Doctors may implement stretching and other exercises to keep muscles from getting stiff. Long stretches and splints are most helpful for increasing strength and retaining flexibility.

Exercise programs to strengthen muscles combine with medications, including diazepam or Botox procedures. These programs facilitate better recovery as patients learn how to dress and bathe.

Mobility Aids

A mobility aid is vital for encouraging freedom and helping people walk more easily. Canes, walkers, braces, and other solutions improve mobility while reducing pain. Physical therapists and doctors can work with orthotic developers to help you get a custom mobility solution.

If paralysis results in forgetting how to walk, mobility aids will help patients relearn this skill.

Physical and Mental Health Therapies

woman having a back massage

Therapy plays a central role in TM recovery. Many people can regain their happiness, independence, and mobility despite life-altering complications thanks to physical therapy, mental health therapies, vocational therapy, and more.

  • Psychotherapy: Traditional mental health therapy allows you to discuss the challenges of transverse myelitis with a licensed mental health professional. Patients struggling with depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, and other negative feelings will learn coping skills and gain insight into dealing with new lifestyle changes. Moreover, other mental health therapies can help you deal with trauma from the sudden disruption.
  • Occupational therapy: Muscle weakness may leave those with TM partially or fully paralyzed. Occupational therapy teaches patients how to adapt to life with their new physical limitations. You’ll learn how to dress yourself, cook, bathe, and perform other daily tasks.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy teaches you how to build muscle and prevent atrophying during recovery. Therapists can teach you how to use a cane or wheelchair effectively. They can also advise on techniques to control or improve muscle movement and control.
  • Vocational therapy: Transverse myelitis causes many people to quit their jobs as they can no longer perform to their previous capacity. Vocational therapy can help you find an employer that can accommodate the physical limitations from TM.


Bed rest is a typical suggestion for those with severe transverse myelitis. As transverse myelitis weakens your immune system, you’ll need plenty of sleep to maintain energy and fight the condition.

Transverse Myelitis FAQ

doctor reading about transverse myelitis in his tablet

Can people with transverse myelitis recover?

Yes, people with transverse myelitis can recover. However, those with transverse myelitis often do not make a full recovery. Each person takes a different amount of time to recover, and recovery time also varies with symptom severity.

Doctors’ leading theory is that quicker-appearing symptoms result in longer, more difficult recoveries and more lasting symptoms. Depending on your case, you may recover months after the illness stops or have permanent disabilities.

One-third of TM patients may have difficulty walking due to muscle tightness and spasms, experience incontinence issues, or struggle with their sense of touch. Another third cannot walk or perform daily activities to their previous ability. Nonetheless, around one-third of patients recover without severe, lasting complications.

How can I get help with my transverse myelitis vaccine injury?

Many patients seek fair compensation after experiencing TM along with other illnesses potentially caused by vaccines. After suffering from transverse myelitis, you have three years to file a claim with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).

Getting help with your TM injury begins with an appointment with vaccine injury professionals like Sadaka Law. We’ll learn about your case and work diligently to help you get a satisfying outcome.

Alternative routes include petitioning the VICP. You must provide ample proof that a vaccine caused your injury. While you can file this claim yourself, a skilled attorney can support your case.

Do I still have a case despite transverse myelitis not being on the Vaccine Injury Table?

Doctors have not thoroughly researched transverse myelitis and its occurrence with vaccines. Although the condition isn’t on the Vaccine Injury Table for this reason, you may still have a case. Sadaka Law’s legal professionals can help you determine the viability of your case.

In light of further research and increased reports of TM after getting influenza, hepatitis B, and other vaccines, the VICP may add this debilitating condition to the Vaccine Injury Table. Check the table for the latest information and see if it’s added.

Sadaka Law has experience fighting cases from on-table and off-table injuries. Whether or not your condition is on the Vaccine Injury Table, the Sadaka Law team offers aggressive defense.

What are the differences between transverse myelitis and MS?

Transverse myelitis is a symptom of multiple sclerosis. Its symptoms include muscle weakness, pain, paralysis, and sexual dysfunction.

MS is a disease that results in unpredictable disruptions between the brain and the rest of the body. It is an autoimmune disease that attacks the myelin sheath around the spinal cord and brain stem, causing pain and muscle problems. Some people may experience numb sensations, blindness, fatigue, and paralysis.

Not all people who develop transverse myelitis get multiple sclerosis, and not all people with MS experience symptoms of TM. You may have severe symptoms or mild, temporary problems depending on your medical history, genetics, and other factors. Multiple sclerosis symptoms may be long-lasting or fleeting.

How Sadaka Law Can Help Your Transverse Myelitis Vaccine Injury Case

gavel and different types of vaccines

The lawyers at Sadaka Law understand how frustrating, confusing, and stressful filing a vaccine injury claim can be. The last thing you need is to deal with a lengthy filing process on top of your condition. Sadaka Law can help.

Our highly skilled vaccine injury lawyers have years of experience defending patients with transverse myelitis. When you need trustworthy advice and valuable insight into your case, let us help. We offer compassionate legal assistance no matter your vaccine injury needs.

Do you suspect a vaccination caused your or your loved one’s transverse myelitis? Speak to the lawyers at Sadaka Law and get honest advice on the best way to proceed. Contact us for precise, high-quality, and caring legal defense today.

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