Transverse Myelitis: Factors to Consider

April 2021

Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder characterized by inflammation of the spinal cord. It may be caused by infection, autoimmune disease, or a tumor. If caught early enough, many symptoms can be alleviated.

In this article, we explore the diagnosis and treatment of transverse myelitis, a chronic inflammation of the spinal cord's insulation called myelin. This is a rare condition that can lead to paralysis but it has some promising new treatments in development. We also look at recent advances in stem cell therapy and discuss potential long term challenges for people with transverse myelitis.

You might have heard of multiple sclerosis (MS), which produces similar symptoms including chronic inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS). But unlike MS, transverse myelitis is not caused by an autoimmune disorder or viral infection.

Instead, the damage is caused by a direct injury to the spinal cord's myelin sheath. The most common cause of Transverse Myelitis is an infection with the West Nile virus. It can also be caused by exposure to certain vaccines or cancer, most often Hodgkin lymphoma or leukemia. Transverse myelitis is a rare disorder of the spinal cord that can cause paralysis or other neurological damage. In some cases, it can lead to complications such as bowel and bladder dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, and certain types of pain. Transverse myelitis is a complex condition with challenges and frequent opportunities for improvement. 

Transverse myelitis affects about 5 to 10 people per million every year, while MS affects about 350,000 people in the United States alone. And unlike MS, there isn't a way to prevent transverse myelitis because it stems from infectious disease or cancer rather than an autoimmune disorder.

Symptoms of transverse myelitis include paralysis, pain and sensory problems. Some patients may also experience urinary incontinence or even constipation as common symptoms.

The several months after the initial infection is when these symptoms tend to develop. As time goes by, fewer cases of transverse myelitis lead to permanent disability and some patients who recover completely can actually improve their condition. In fact, one study showed that 40 percent of patients fully recover from transverse myelitis within a year .

Unfortunately, individuals with transverse myelitis face a higher risk of serious complications from any additional infections or injuries they might have throughout their lives. It's no secret that our health care system in America has been deteriorating steadily these past few years. Rising costs and limited resources have become two of the most predominant concerns for our country. Unfortunately, this problem has now spread to one of the most important sectors of our society: healthcare.

In 2016, the United States spent $3.3 trillion on health care expenditures (Kaiser Family Foundation). That's roughly $10,345 per person per year in 2016 dollars. Given that population growth has been stagnant in recent years and that many technological advances in medicine are promising lower costs, we might expect U.S. health spending to be lower today than it was 10 years ago when we had a smaller population and less sophisticated treatments.

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