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Infections in the brain and spinal cord can cause dangerous inflammation. This inflammation can produce a wide range of symptoms, and in extreme cases, can cause brain damage, stroke, seizures, or even death. Myelitis is an infection of the spinal cord.
Attacks of inflammation can damage or destroy myelin, the fatty insulating substance that covers nerve cell fibers. This damage causes nervous system scars that interrupt communications between the nerves in the spinal cord and the rest of the body.
Symptoms of transverse myelitis include a loss of spinal cord function over several hours to several weeks. What usually begins as a sudden onset of lower back pain, muscle weakness, or abnormal sensations in the toes and feet can rapidly progress to more severe symptoms, including paralysis, urinary retention, and loss of bowel control.
The segment of the spinal cord at which the damage occurs determines which parts of the body are affected. Damage at one segment will affect function at that segment and segments below it. In patients with transverse myelitis, demyelination usually occurs at the thoracic level, causing problems with leg movement and bowel and bladder control, which require signals from the lower segments of the spinal cord.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
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