Transverse myelitis is a condition in which a section of the spinal cord becomes inflamed. This can cause damage to the myelin, the covering for nerve cell fibres. As a result, communication between nerve cells in the spinal cord and the rest of the body can be interrupted.
Transverse myelitis occurs in adults and children, in both genders, and in all races. No familial predisposition is apparent. A peak in incidence rates (the number of new cases per year) appears to occur between 10 and 19 years and 30 and 39 years. Although only a few studies have examined incidence rates, it is estimated that about 1,400 new cases of transverse myelitis are diagnosed each year in the United States, and approximately 33,000 Americans have some type of disability resulting from the disorder.
Recovery from transverse myelitis usually begins within 2 to 12 weeks of the onset of symptoms and may continue for up to 2 years (and in some cases longer). However, if there is no improvement within the first 3 to 6 months, complete recovery is unlikely (although incomplete recovery can still occur, which underlines the significant need for aggressive physical therapy and rehabilitation).
The cause of 60% of TM cases may remain unknown despite the presence of inflammatory mechanisms. However, the remaining 40% is associated with autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica, systemic lupus erythematous, Sjogren’s syndrome and sarcoidosis among others.
The term idiopathic — meaning the cause is unknown- has been used in the past in situations in which the cause cannot be determined. However, the lack of demonstration of a causative disorder, mechanism or agent may be the result of failure of an early diagnosis or the result of causative factors that disappears quickly such as in cases of viral infections or post-infectious disorders.
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