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Rapid onset transverse myelitis in adolescence: implications for pathogenesis and prognosis


Five adolescents with transverse myelitis were reviewed. All presented with a rapid onset paralysis of the lower limbs and impairment of bladder control. The maximum disability developed between 10 minutes and six hours. There was no history of trauma, asthma, or prodromal illness. Investigations failed to demonstrate a vascular cause. Extensive spinal cord abnormalities were observed on magnetic resonance imaging. Electrophysiological investigations, performed in four cases, were all consistent with anterior horn cell damage. In all five adolescents there was poor recovery. The underlying pathogenesis of this rapid onset condition remains a subject of debate. Similarities with both transverse myelitis and fibrocartilaginous emboli are evident, widening the spectrum of conditions within the transverse myelitis umbrella. These observations suggest that in rapid onset “transverse myelitis” the combination of extensive hyperintensity on spinal cord neuroimaging with electrophysiological evidence of anterior horn cell involvement might have adverse prognostic significance.

  • Rapid onset of paralysis (less than six hours), extensive hyperintensity on spinal cord T2 weighted MRI, and anterior horn cell involvement are associated with poor outcome in adolescents

  • Transverse myelitis is a condition involving a spectrum of disease; the cause of paralysis should be questioned. Vascular impairment secondary to fibrocartilaginous emboli should be considered

  • In making the diagnosis of Hopkins’s syndrome, the pathogenic spectrum of transverse myelitis should be considered

  • transverse myelitis
  • fibrocartilaginous emboli
  • Hopkins’s syndrome
  • adolescence
  • pathogenesis
  • prognosis

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