Transverse myelitis – common symptoms of spinal disease, including problems with urination

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

woman with back pain
The onset of transverse myelitis symptoms often occurs between 24 and 48 hours

June 9th each year is Transverse Myelitis Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of 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 that affect different functions and parts of our body.

The condition affects all age groups from young children to the elderly. 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 and causes of the condition.

What are common symptoms of transverse myelitis?

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


(Getty Images/EyeEm)

There are four classic symptoms of transverse myelitis:

  • Pains – Transverse myelitis may begin as a sharp pain that starts suddenly in your lower back and shoots down your legs or arms, or around your chest or abdomen. Where you experience pain symptoms can vary depending on which part of your spinal cord is affected.
  • weakness in arms or legs – Some people with TM notice a feeling of heaviness in one or both legs. You may stumble or drag a foot. Hand and arm coordination or strength may also be impaired in certain individuals. In some cases, people can even develop severe weakness or even complete paralysis.
  • abnormal sensations – Sensations of numbness, tingling, coldness or burning have been reported by some people with TM. Some are even sensitive to the touch of clothing and extreme heat or cold. You might also feel something tightly gripping the skin of your chest, stomach, or legs.
  • bladder and bowel problems – These include urinating 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 occurring within a few hours, often as little as 24-48 hours.

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

What are causes of transverse myelitis?

In younger patients, transverse myelitis can be an early indicator of other spinal cord disorders


(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In 60% of cases of transverse myelitis, the cause remains unknown. However, in 40% of people – especially in younger patients – the cause of the disease is linked to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica, systemic lupus erythematous, Sjögren’s syndrome and sarcoidosis, among others.

Sometimes other spinal cord disorders, such as stroke or vascular myelopathy, can be mistaken for TM. It’s important to consult a doctor if you think you have symptoms of TM.

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