Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

A diagnosis of transverse myelitis is based on your answers to questions about your signs and symptoms, your medical history, a clinical assessment of nerve function, and the results of tests. These tests, which may indicate inflammation of the spinal cord and rule out other disorders, include the following:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create cross-sectional or 3-D images of soft tissues. An MRI can show inflammation of the spinal cord, and it can identify other potential causes of the symptoms, including abnormalities causing spinal cord compression and blood vessel malformations.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is the use of a needle to draw from the spinal column a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the protective fluid that surrounds your spinal cord and brain.

    In some people with transverse myelitis, CSF may have abnormally high numbers of white blood cells or immune system proteins that indicate inflammation. Spinal fluid can also be tested for viral infections or certain cancers.

  • Blood tests may include a test that checks for antibodies associated with neuromyelitis optica, a condition in which inflammation occurs both in your spinal cord and in the nerve in your eye. People with a positive antibody test are at increased risk of experiencing multiple attacks of transverse myelitis and require treatment to prevent future attacks.

    Other blood tests can identify infections that may be a contributing factor in transverse myelitis or rule out other causes of symptoms.

Feb. 13, 2014

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