Signs and symptoms of transverse myelitis usually develop over a few hours and worsen over a few days. Less commonly, signs and symptoms progress gradually over several days to weeks. Depending on the cause, one or both sides of the body may be affected.
Typical signs and symptoms include:
- Pain. Pain associated with transverse myelitis often begins suddenly in your neck or back, depending on the part of your spinal cord that's affected. Sharp, shooting sensations may also radiate down your legs or arms or around your abdomen.
- Abnormal sensations. Some people with transverse myelitis report sensations of numbness, tingling, coldness or burning. Some are especially sensitive to the light touch of clothing or to extreme heat or cold. You may feel as if something is tightly wrapping the skin of your chest, abdomen or legs.
- Weakness in your arms or legs. Some people with mild weakness notice that they're stumbling or dragging one foot or that their legs feel heavy as they move. Others may develop paralysis.
- Bladder and bowel problems. These problems may include an increased urinary urge, urinary incontinence, difficulty urinating and constipation.
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor or get emergency medical care if you're experiencing signs and symptoms of transverse myelitis. A number of neurological disorders can cause sensory problems, weakness, and bladder or bowel dysfunction. It's important to get a prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Feb. 13, 2014
- Transverse myelitis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/transversemyelitis/detail_transversemyelitis.htm. Accessed Sept. 11, 2013.
- Transverse myelitis. The Transverse Myelitis Association. http://myelitis.org/symptoms-conditions/transverse-myelitis/. Accessed Sept. 11, 2013.
- Eisen A. Disorders affecting the spinal cord. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 11, 2013.
- Frohman EM, et al. Clinical practice: Transverse myelitis. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;363:564.
- Weinshenker BG (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 16, 2013.