Doctors do not know the exact cause of transverse myelitis, but the condition typically occurs after an infection or as a complication of another condition, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Transverse myelitis is also the first sign of an underlying central nervous system disorder in some patients, and some cases of the condition are a result of an abnormal immune response triggered by cancer.
Transverse myelitis can occur as a complication of Lyme disease, chickenpox vaccinations, syphilis and measles, notes the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Viral infections that can lead to the condition include varicella zoster, Epstein-Barr, herpes simplex, hepatitis A and influenza. Bacterial infections such as middle-ear infections can also lead to transverse myelitis. Some patients with transverse myelitis have an autoimmune disease, such as sarcoidosis and Sjorgren's syndrome, as well.
Patients with multiple sclerosis or neuromyelitis optica sometimes experience transverse myelitis as a symptom, explains the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. In multiple sclerosis, the symptom of transverse myelitis usually affects only a part of the spinal cord. Patients with neuromyelitis optica, on the other hand, experience both vision loss and transverse myelitis that affects the entire spinal cord.