Neuromyelitis Optica

Also known as: NMO, NMO spectrum disorder (NMOSD), Devic’s disease

What is neuromyelitis optica?

Neuromyelitis optica is a rare and severe disease of the central nervous system that primarily affects the eye nerves (optic nerves) and spinal cord, sometimes affecting the brain.

What causes neuromyelitis optica? 

For reasons unknown, the body’s normal mechanism to identify and get rid of foreign material (the immune system) mistakenly attacks its own central nervous system tissues, primarily the optic nerves and spinal cord. The attacks (flare-ups) may occur months or years apart with some potential recovery in between.

It sometimes appears after an infection or can be associated with another autoimmune condition.

What are the symptoms of neuromyelitis optica?

Symptoms include:

  • pain in the eyes
  • loss of vision/blindness in one or both eyes
  • weakness or paralysis of arms or legs
  • painful spasms
  • loss of sensation
  • uncontrollable vomiting
  • hiccups
  • loss of bladder and bowel function, from damage to the spinal cord.

Children may also present with confusion, seizures or coma.

What are neuromyelitis optica care options?

While neuromyelitis optica cannot be cured, medications can reverse recent symptoms and prevent future attacks. Treatments include intravenous corticosteroids, other drugs to suppress the immune system and a blood treatment known as plasma exchange.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: November 06, 2023 04:23 PM

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