What Are the Most Common Transverse Myelitis Symptoms?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2019
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The most common transverse myelitis symptoms are pain, weakness in the extremities, changes in sensory perception, and problems with bowel and bladder control. These are considered the four classic signs of the condition, and while they do not appear in every case, usually patients experience a combination of two or more symptoms when they develop this condition. In transverse myelitis cases, inflammation attacks the spinal cord, impairing function across the cord from that point on down. Patients with this condition can experience various symptoms depending on the level of the inflammation.

Acute cases onset quickly, sometimes within hours, while subacute transverse myelitis may unfold over several weeks. Patients will notice transverse myelitis symptoms below the level of the injury and on both sides of the body, so high level inflammations are much more serious. People who notice neurological symptoms of any kind, including those associated with this condition, should receive a medical evaluation to find out more.

Pain is a warning sign indicating that something is going wrong with the conduction of nerve signals. Patients can experience pain below the level of the inflammation that may vary from a mild pins and needles sensation to more sharp, stabbing pains. These pain signals are not associated with any sensory stimulation like exposure to heat.


Extremity weakness is also one of the key transverse myelitis symptoms. This typically starts in the legs, but can include the arms if people have inflammation high in the spine. Patients may have trouble walking or notice that they start dragging one foot, and they may experience problems with coordination. Fine motor tasks can also be more difficult.

Changes in sensation can also be observed; patients may find their senses dulled or can experience abnormal sensations in response to tactile stimuli. For example, a patient may not be sensitive to touch, even when the skin is pressed very firmly, or clothing might feel unbearably tight and abrasive. Other patients might experience phantom sensations other than pain as the inflammation damages neurons normally used to send sensory information to the brain. These transverse myelitis symptoms indicate that the patient's nerve conduction is impaired.

Bowel and or bladder control transverse myelitis symptoms may include total loss of continence or difficulty controlling defecation and urination. Some patients miss the early warning signs that they need to use the toilet and only realize when the situation is urgent. Changes in continence in adult patients with no recent history like urinary tract infection or diarrhea to explain the symptoms can be a warning sign of a spinal cord problem, indicating that the nerves can no longer reliably control bowel and bladder activity.


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