Transverse myelitis is a little understood neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. Thought to occur due to viral infections, autoimmune reactions, or unknown (idiopathic) reasons, this inflammation attacks the substance that protects the nerves of the spinal cord, leaving scars that can disrupt the signals between the spinal cord nerves and the rest of the body.
This disruption can result in pain, other abnormal sensations, such as tingling or burning, weakness or paralysis of muscles, and bladder and bowel dysfunction. While these symptoms are generally easy to describe and observe, they are often mistaken for signs of other disorders. Accurate diagnoses and effective treatment are delayed, and people suffer needlessly.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Transverse Myelitis
Transvers myelitis can develop quickly (within a few hours or few days) or over a much longer period lasting up to four weeks. As it develops, it can cause a variety of problems, depending on the severity and location of the damage to the nerves’ protective coating.
Despite the variety of related issues, doctors who take a thorough medical history and complete a thorough medical examination should generally be able to recognize four main symptoms:
- Pain in your back or neck not resulting from an injury.
- Other abnormal sensations, such as extreme sensitivity to touch, tingling, numbness, or burning.
- Weakness in your legs and/or arms, sometimes resulting in stumbling, dragging a foot, or paralysis.
- Urinary and bowel problems, such as increased urges to urinate or move your bowels, difficulty urinating or moving your bowels, and incontinence.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek prompt medical care. Although some transverse myelitis patients do end up with serious physical impairments, many are able to regain normal functioning with proper medication and therapy promptly after the onset of symptoms.
Diagnosing Transverse Myelitis
When you seek medical care for symptoms of transverse myelitis, your doctor should take a complete medical history and conduct a thorough assessment of your nerve function. Then he should order tests to show the spinal cord inflammation and help rule out other underlying conditions.
These tests include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)to show inflammation of the spinal cord and other possible causes, such as a tumor, injured disc, stenosis, or an abscess.
- Blood teststo rule out other disorders, such as lupus, HIV infection, vitamin B12 deficiency, Neuromyelitis optica (NMO), and other disorders.
- Spinal tap to test for a high white blood cell count, viral infections, certain cancers, and diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
If these tests show inflammation but do not reveal underlying damage or disease affecting the central nervous system, you are diagnosed with transverse myelitis.
If you have been diagnosed with transverse myelitis without having been tested for MS or NMO, you need to have further testing done. People with MS or NMO require specific treatment regimens that are different than that given to transverse myelitis patients.
Treatment for Transverse Myelitis
There is currently no cure for transverse myelitis, but different treatments are prescribed to help reduce spinal cord inflammation and manage symptoms. Steroids are typically administered to decrease the inflammation causing the spinal cord problems, and pain medications are prescribed to help manage your pain. In addition, antiviral medication is given if you have a viral infection of the spinal cord, and other medications are prescribed as needed to treat specific symptoms, such as urinary or bowel dysfunction, muscle spasms, depression, or other problems related to transverse myelitis.
In addition to medical treatment, other types of therapies are usually prescribed to promote recovery. Physical therapy can help you learn how to use assistive devices, if necessary, and exercises can be prescribed to help you build up strength, stamina, and coordination. Also, if necessary, occupational therapy can help you learn how to perform daily self-care activities and psychotherapy can help you handle emotional and social issues related to your physical condition.
Although most people with transverse myelitis recover at least partially within a year, some patients are left with permanent physical disabilities. If this happens, there are many kinds of therapy available:
- Rehabilitative therapy helps you develop strategies to accomplish daily living activities and deal with your emotions so you can live as independently as possible.
- Physical therapy can help increase your strength and stamina, improve your coordination, and prevent muscle from wasting away.
- Occupational therapy helps you learn specific ways to compensate for and work with your abilities to maximize your functional independence.
- Vocational therapy helps your develop works skills and find employment.
Misdiagnosis of Transverse Myelitis
People do recover from transverse myelitis, but the prognosis varies from individual to individual. Usually recovery begins within the first three months following the onset of the disorder and can take up to two years.
Aggressive medical treatment and physical therapy can improve your prognosis, so getting an accurate diagnosis early on and getting the medical and rehabilitative treatments you need are extremely important. In the early stages of the disorder, the immune system can be calmed down, hopefully preventing damage that can lead to permanent disabilities. Such effective treatment, however, depends on your quickly getting an accurate diagnosis.
Unfortunately, prompt, accurate diagnosis of transverse myelitis is not always the case. Some people are misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis, stroke or sciatica; others are shuffled from doctor to doctor before they receive a diagnosis. If your doctor doesn’t do a thorough medical history or physical exam, the tests ordered don’t reveal the inflammation or the inflammation is misdiagnosed, or some other form of negligence occurs, you could suffer the consequences of misdiagnosis.
Florida Transverse Myelitis Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Although transverse myelitis is not commonly known or very well understood, each year approximately 1,400 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with the disorder. Some will recover, while others will suffer with varying disabilities for the rest of their lives.
Sad to say, some of those afflicted with transverse myelitis will receive prompt accurate diagnoses and effective treatment, while others will not. If you or a family member has suffered from failure to diagnose or the misdiagnosis of transverse myelitis, you may have a medical malpractice case.
Contact the experienced Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Paul & Perkins as soon as possible to discuss your case.
Mayo Clinic. (2014). “Transvers Myelitis.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/transverse-myelitis/basics/definition/con-20028884
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2015).”Transvers Myelitis Fact Sheet.”.http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/transversemyelitis/detail_transversemyelitis.htm
Transverse Myelitis Association (TMA). (2016). “Acute Treatments.” https://myelitis.org/living-with-myelitis/newly-diagnosed/#acute-treatments