Objective: A study was undertaken to determine whether cases of parainfectious-associated transverse myelitis (TM) and multiple sclerosis-associated TM could be distinguished on the basis of clinical criteria, radiologic features, or cerebrospinal fluid examination. A secondary objective was to determine the incidence of TM in a US population.
Design: A retrospective analysis of 33 cases was conducted. Cases were classified as being related to parainfectious multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord ischemia, or idiopathic.
Setting: All cases occurring in the Albuquerque, NM, area from 1960 through 1990 were reviewed. The population base was 500,000.
Outcome measures: Clinical presentation, radiologic features, cerebrospinal fluid, recovery of ambulation and bladder function, and recurrence rates were compared.
Results: Thirty-three patients satisfied study criteria, corresponding to an incidence of 4.6 per million per year. Forty-five percent of these cases were categorized as parainfectious, 21% as associated with multiple sclerosis, 12% as associated with spinal cord ischemia, and 21% as idiopathic. Patients with parainfectious TM suffered from spinal shock more frequently than did those with multiple sclerosis-associated TM. Patients with parainfectious TM showed evidence of spinal cord swelling, whereas patients with multiple sclerosis-associated TM had spinal cord plaques on magnetic resonance images but none showed swelling. Oligoclonal bands were absent in patients with parainfectious TM and present in three of five patients with multiple sclerosis-associated TM.
Conclusions: Parainfectious TM may be distinguishable from that associated with multiple sclerosis on the basis of presentation, findings on imaging, and the presence of cerebrospinal fluid oligoclonal bands.