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Imagine the sudden onset of intense back pain, a feeling of weakness in your limbs, numbness and a difficulty controlling your bowels and bladder.

These are the typical and disturbing symptoms of Transverse Myelitis. Getting the right treatment rapidly can dramatically increase the likelihood of a full recovery.

What is it?

Transverse Myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord where the swelling interferes with communication between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body. The substance that coats nerve fibres, called myelin, becomes damaged, and symptoms can develop over hours, days or weeks. These symptoms are often very distressing for sufferers.

Transverse Myelitis can happen to anyone, at any time in their life, and it does not appear to run in families. GPs are often baffled by patients presenting with symptoms as it is not a condition they see every day: only an estimated 300 cases a year occur in the UK.


Transverse myelitis may develop very quickly or conversely very gradually over a number of weeks. The height at which the damage occurs in the spinal cord will dictate which parts of the body are affected; symptoms will occur in the body at that level and below. The damage most frequently happens to nerves in the upper back, so disrupts functions travelling down to the lower back. Common symptoms are:

  • Pain
    Early signs usually include pain or shooting sensations that start in the back and travel to legs, arms and/or the torso.
  • Limb weakness
    Leg weakness often progresses rapidly in sufferers and if the upper spinal cord is affected the arms will become weak as well. This weakness may develop into partial or complete paralysis.
  • Bladder and Bowel dysfunction
    Including increased need to use the toilet, incontinence, difficulty emptying the bladder and constipation.
  • Sensory alterations
    Numbness and strange sensations such as burning, prickling, coldness, or tingling in the legs are common. Altered sensation in the genitals and torso and are also often experienced.

Muscle spasms, sexual dysfunction, loss of appetite, flu like symptoms, respiratory problems, anxiety and depression, stress, and chronic pain have also been reported in some cases.

Why does it happen?

Transverse Myelitis is often caused by an underlying condition. Identifying the correct cause is key to devising the correct treatment plan for sufferers to promote recovery and limit the risk of relapse. Some of the most common causes are:

  • Infections
    Bacterial, fungal, parasitic or viral. It is often difficult to know whether the infection is the direct cause or if it is a post infectious immune response.
  • Immune system disorders
    where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue.
  • Vascular disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis
    Often representing the first symptoms of the illness
  • Other inflammatory disorders

Transverse Myelitis can, however, happen in isolation without the presence of any particular cause and then it is referred to as idiopathic.

Treatment and recovery

There is no universal remedy for Transverse Myelitis but treatments to prevent or minimize permanent neurological problems include corticosteroid and immune suppressants, blood/ plasma exchange or antiviral medications.

Whilst for some, Transverse Myelitis will be a one off; others suffer with recurring episodes where an underlying illness is to blame. Most sufferers make at least a partial recovery, whilst others make a complete recovery and experience no lingering problems. Others unfortunately go on to endure permanent difficulties that affect their everyday lives.

Aggressive acute treatment and early access to physical therapy have been shown to be key factors in improving the final outcome for patients.

How much compensation might I receive for missed Transverse Myelitis?

The amount you may receive in compensation for a claim involving Transverse Myelitis can vary depending on your circumstances, for example the level of disability following the delay and also what financial losses you may have incurred as a result.

Find out more about how we value claims here.

When do I need to bring a claim by?

Unless you, or the person you are claiming for, are under the age of 18, you have three years from the date of injury to bring a negligence claim. It can also be three years from the date of knowledge that the injury occurred.

Find out about limitations here.

How long will a claim take?

Cases of this nature are usually very complex, so may take many years to settle. Many factors can affect this, including whether the defendant admits liability for the negligence. The range for all types of claims is between 18 months to five years, however we always aim to bring your claim to a satisfactory conclusion as fast as possible.

Find out more about the process of making a claim here.

How can I pay for the claim?

We run the vast majority of our medical negligence cases under Conditional Fee Agreements, otherwise known as No Win, No Fee funding.

There are other funding options that you can look at here.


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