8 Symptoms of Neuromyelitis Optica to Be Aware Of

8 Symptoms of Neuromyelitis Optica to Be Aware Of

Tooba Pasha Waqar |Sep 8, 2021

Neuromyelitis Optica Symptoms and Diagnosis Process

Neuromyelitis optica or Devic’s disease is rare, affecting 4,000 people in the U.S. and about a quarter of a million people worldwide.

Considering its rarity, not many people are educated enough to understand what this disease entails. However, this detail shows precisely why we educate people on it.

The symptoms of Devic’s disease are quite similar to various common symptoms people experience. Knowing about neuromyelitis optica will help you prevent any further damage if it can be diagnosed early on.

What is Neuromyelitis Optica?

Also known as NMO, neuromyelitis optica is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues surrounding the spinal cord and optical nerves. It also affects the brain in some cases.

Devic’s disease is not a hereditary condition. However, if you have a family history of autoimmune disorders, you will be more likely to develop neuromyelitis optica. There is also no age limit to the condition, and in most cases, NMO strikes during the patient’s childhood years. But, it is strangely more common in patients in their 40s, perhaps because of a decline in their immune system response.

NMO targets a substance known as myelin, which creates insulation around the optic nerves and spinal cord. Unfortunately, we do not know what triggers this condition. Research is scant because of the condition’s rarity. However, many think NMO appears after the patient suffers from an infection that triggers the autoimmune disease.

In many cases, patients with neuromyelitis optica are misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), but the symptoms for NMO differ from that of MS.

Types of Neuromyelitis Optica

Before learning about the symptoms of NMO, let’s discuss the types.

There are two types of neuromyelitis optica that people experience:

  • Relapsing NMO
  • Monophasic NMO

Relapsing NMO

This is a more common condition.

Patients with relapsing NMO experience the initial attack, which inflames the spinal cord and optic nerve. This is then followed by a series of attacks that span over several years.

Damage from relapsing NMO is permanent, and more often, people do not recover fully from this attack on the nerve. As a result, patients experience disability and require additional help and assistance. Relapsing NMO affects females more than males.

Monophasic NMO

This type of NMO affects both genders equally.

Monophasic NMO causes a limited number of attacks to occur more closely together over days or weeks. There is no long-term threat that the body may experience more attacks in the future.

Because of this limited period, most patients recover more quickly from the effects, but monophasic NMO is rare, so most patients should be wary of any future attacks if they experience an initial episode.

Symptoms of NMO

We know that NMO damages the spinal cord and optic nerve.

Inflammation of the spinal cord occurs because of a process known as transverse myelitis. So, a patient may experience the following symptoms during a singular attack:

  • Heavy and weak limbs, sometimes causing total paralysis.
  • Problems with urination, changes in urination patterns, urinary incontinence, frequent urination and difficulty urinating.
  • Constipation.
  • Altered sensitivity, such as numbness, tingling, feeling of coldness or burning and sensitivity to temperature.

Alongside these symptoms, the patients may also experience symptoms related to optic nerve inflammation, called optic neuritis. These symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the optic disc.
  • Lowered sensitivity to color.
  • Temporary loss of eyesight with a risk of permanent loss of vision in at least one eye.
  • Eye pain that is affected by movement, getting more severe after a week, then resolving within a few days.

A person who experiences a singular mild attack of NMO can recover from these symptoms, even completely, and have no relapses ever. But the chances of that are low. Many will experience multiple attacks, leading to lifelong disability.

Diagnosing Neuromyelitis Optica

As stated before, diagnosing NMO can be difficult because its symptoms are similar to that of other conditions and diseases, including:

  • Viral infections.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
  • Acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis (ADEM).
  • Mixed connective tissue disorder (MCTD).
  • Paraneoplastic optic neuropathy (inflammation linked to cancer).
  • MS.

To separate these results from NMO, professional physicians may recommend the following tests to get a confirmed diagnosis:

  • Blood test, specifically to check for NMO IgG, an antibody.
  • Spinal tap or lumbar puncture to check NMO-specific proteins and levels of white blood cell.
  • MRI to check for lesions and damage to the brain.

Post-Diagnosis Treatment

There is no treatment for NMO. However, you will be able to get some treatment for the related symptoms.
Taking your present condition into account, your doctor may prescribe oral steroids. If that does not present any positive results, they may switch you to plasma exchange therapy.

If your immune system responds aggressively, your doctor may suggest an immune suppressant. However, such medications can have plenty of side effects, so the patient must be prepared.

Final Thoughts

NMO can be debilitating for everyone, whether they experience the condition in childhood or adulthood.
The best way to treat this condition is by learning about it, especially if you are susceptible. Knowing that you are vulnerable to such disorders now will not only help you prepare for the future, but it may also prevent your symptoms from getting worse.

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