Transverse myelitis is a fairly rare disease involving inflammation and possible damage of the spinal cord. It generally causes paralysis to some degree; most patients experience at least a partial recovery but some do not. Its exact cause is unknown, but is probably an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body's immune system mistakenly attacks tissue, possibly seeing it as some sort of virus.

In many ways, transverse myelitis is similar to multiple sclerosis, another autoimmune disease. There are major differences, however. MS is a gradual affliction, progressively damaging the myelin covering of neural fibers and never entirely abating. TM, on the other hand, is characterized by sudden, unpredictable attacks, which may occur once or several times in a victim's lifetime, and do not necessarily cause permanent damage to the spine. The full name of transverse myletis is "acute transverse myelitis," which reflects on the sudden nature of the disease. Particularly severe attacks of TM can cause sufficient neural damage to lead to a case of MS, but the diseases are, in principle, unrelated.

Treatment of TM is not an exact science. Different types of drugs are given to reduce inflammation, control muscular spasms, and kill pain. In some cases, steroids are used to reduce atrophy in the muscles of the weakened or paralyzed region.

Rehabilitation can do a great deal to improve the condition of a TM patient. My mother was in excellent health at the outset of her first attack, which left her in a wheelchair. Through several hours of rehabilitation daily, she was quickly able to begin walking, first with crutches and then with a cane, and finally unaided. Afterward, she continued with strenuous daily workouts, which helped her recover quickly from later attacks. Unfortunately, this is an unusual case, as most patients are not so physically strong, and have a longer period of recovery.


I'm certainly no medical expert. If anyone has any greater knowledge of this subject, please correct me. The majority of TM research is done at Johns Hopkins University, and I'd recommend viewing their site at http://www.med.jhu.edu/jhtmc/ for a more complete overview of the disease, its causes and symptoms.

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