Spinal Cord Disease

Although some spinal cord disorders originate outside of the spinal cord itself (such as compression, and blocked blood supply), there are problems which can occur that originate in the cord. Fluid-filled cavities called syrinxes may arise, inflammation can occur, such as in acute transverse myelitis, tumors, abscesses, haemorrhage, multiple sclerosis, syphilis, and infection with HIV are all possible pathologies of the spinal cord. While some of these disorders result in pain, loss of sensation, and muscle weakness, they can also cause spastic paralysis where signals from the brain cannot reach the muscles to control reflex actions, leading to muscle spasms that become more pronounced over time.

Myelitis Spinal Cord Disease

Transverse myelitis may occur in the presence of certain other conditions possibly due to the body launching an auto-immune attack causing widespread inflammation of the chest and damage to a large portion of the spinal cord. Conditions that may be complicated by acute transverse myelitis include:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neuromyelitis optica
  • Bacterial infections such as Lyme disease, syphilis, or tuberculosis
  • Vasculitis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Viral meningoencephalitis

Acute transverse myelitis may also occur due to the use of certain anti-parasitic or anti-fungal drugs, and the intravenous injection of heroin or amphetamines. In rare cases it has been connected to mild viral infections and vaccinations. Conversely, multiple sclerosis can occur in those who have suffered from transverse myelitis with no identified cause (in about 10-20%). Recovery occurs in around a third of people, with a rapid progression suggesting a worse outlook. A third recover for the most part but continue to have some muscle weakness and possible incontinence. The remaining third may become confined to a wheelchair or bedridden, with numerous difficulties. There are various treatment options such as high doses of corticosteroids, and plasma exchange. Experimental procedures using stem cell injections offer promise for those with previously untreatable spinal cord injury, although this application of stem cells is far from being proven or readily available and remains largely theoretical.

Spinal Cord Disorder Causes

The most common cause of spinal cord dysfunction in those fifty-five and older is cervical spondylosis which can put pressure on the spina cord. The resulting spinal stenosis from osteoarthritic changes in the vertebrae may also be compounded by disc degeneration and herniation. A congenitally narrow spinal canal is likely to exacerbate this issue causing more severe spinal cord compression. Repetitive trauma to the spinal cord can also occur as the spinal canal narrows due to repeated disc slippage (in spondylolisthesis due to osteoarthritis). Coughing, sneezing, and other neck movements may worsen the symptoms.