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The 2 types of myelitis: symptoms, causes and treatment

The 2 types of myelitis: symptoms, causes and treatment

June 13, 2024

Myelitis is an affectation that occurs in the neuronal axons and that usually causes important modifications of the electrical activity of the same ones, as well as in the activity of the immune system.

There are two major types of myelitis that vary according to the cause, the severity of the damage and the symptoms specific. We will see below what each one is about, what are the main causes and what is their treatment.

  • Related article: "Myelin: definition, functions and characteristics"

What is myelitis?

Myelitis is a inflammation of the spinal cord which can significantly affect the responses emitted from the brain to the rest of the body, and vice versa.

The above occurs because this inflammation can cause a decrease or significant damage to myelin, the lipid substance that lines neuronal axons. Said substance has among its responsibilities to regulate the speed of conduction of electrical impulses between the neurons, so that an alteration of its functions produces changes in the activity of the same.

On the other hand, myelitis It can be caused by infections derived from different viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites . In these cases the spinal cord is affected by a response of the immune system that, instead of creating antibodies to counteract the virus, reproduces the same virus causing inflammation. For this reason it is considered a type of autoimmune disease.

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Two types of myelitis: their differences

Commonly myelitis occurs in a narrow region within the spinal cord. However, in some cases It can spread to other areas, generating different damages and symptoms . When it is a specific region, it is usually due to an infection, whereas when it is an extension to other areas it is usually a process of diminishing multicausal myelin.

According to the above, two major types of myelitis are usually recognized: poliomyelitis and transverse myelitis. Let's see their differences.

1. Poliomyelitis

Also called polio or infantile paralysis, it is a myelitis caused by viral infections . It usually affects the gray matter, which produces symptoms such as muscle paralysis (in many cases permanent, but not necessarily) and excessive fatigue.

In the event that the polio virus affects the spine, the common symptoms are leg paralysis. Among the mild symptoms are headaches, fever and pains in the extremities .

On the other hand, if the polio virus affects the bulbar region of the brain, the affected area is white matter and cranial nerves, which produces a paralysis of the muscles of the face and symptoms such as encephalitis, difficulty breathing or speaking and swallow. Another way in which myelitis has been called when white matter is affected is leukomyelitis, a condition related to similar diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Finally, if the virus It affects the bulbospinal region and the associated cranial nerves , can cause paralysis of the diaphragm, inflammation of the lungs and effects on cardiac functions.

It is usually transmitted through infected fecal matter, which in turn can be found in contaminated food and water. Less frequently it is transmitted by saliva. For its diagnosis, a stool analysis is performed, or an examination of the activity of the antibodies in the blood.

Poliomyelitis can be prevented by a vaccine (polio vaccine). However, there is no determining cure. Pharmacological treatment consists of taking antibiotics , to prevent major infections, analgesics for pain control, and moderate exercise along with physical therapy and nutritious diets.

2. Transverse myelitis

Transverse myelitis is caused by a process of myelin reduction (demyelination) on the sides of the spinal cord. It's called "transverse" precisely because the inflammation extends to those sides , although in some occasions it can affect only one of them. In the latter case it is called "partial transverse myelitis".

It usually causes symptoms such as fatigue or excessive weakness and numbness of the extremities, sometimes accompanied by headaches and muscle pain. It also causes changes in sensation and motor skills, in urethral function and in the anal sphincter. In some cases it also affects the autonomic nervous system, which can cause episodes of hypertension.

It is a heterogeneous condition, whose causes can be diverse.For example, it can be caused by infections, but also by disorders of the immune system, damage to nerve fibers and damage to the myelin sheaths, which in turn can cause important changes in the conduction of electrical signals between the neurons . The definitive and underlying cause of the latter is hitherto unknown.

For the same reason there is no definitive cure. The treatment is usually symptomatic, that is, it tries to diminish each of the symptoms according to its particular nature. It can include physical therapy to recover some motor functions, as well as the use of support tools to replace or enhance these functions.

Bibliographic references:

  • Poliomyelitis (polio). World Health Organization. Retrieved October 9, 2018. Available at //
  • What is Transverse Myelitis? (2018). Neurology and Neurosurgery. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved October 9, 2018. Available at //

Transverse myelitis (June 2024).

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