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Neuromyelitis optica, also called NMO, is a rare yet severe autoimmune inflammatory process affecting the central nervous system. It mainly affects the spinal cord and the optic nerves -- the nerves that carry signals from the eyes to the brain. As a result, the disease can cause paralysis and blindness.
Neuromyelitis optica most often strikes during childhood or when adults are in their 40s. It’s especially common in young women, but men can develop it, too. Experts used to think that NMO was a type of multiple sclerosis. They now think it may be a different condition. The conditions do have some similar symptoms, but these are usually more severe in NMO. Vision problems with multiple sclerosis usually affect one eye at a time, while NMO may affect both eyes at the same time.
There are two types of NMO:
With NMO, your immune system attacks a substance in your body called myelin — the insulation around your nerves. Specifically, the myelin cells in the spinal cord and optic nerves are attacked. Usually, people with NMO have flare-ups of the disease that may strike months or years apart. Between these flare-ups, people may have some recovery.
These are possible symptoms of NMO:
Health care providers may do a variety of tests if they suspect NMO including:
Experts don't consider this condition curable. But health care providers can prescribe medicines or other treatments to reduce the effects of the disease and relieve symptoms. These may include:
You may also need help from health care providers to cope with blindness and paralysis.
There are several possible complications of NMO including:
Disability from NMO may become worse over time. Most people with NMO develop weakness in their arms and legs. Others may have more severe symptoms. Many people with NMO need to start using a ventilator, which is a machine that helps them breathe. They may also need to work with an occupational therapist or social worker to address their disabilities.
If you or a family member is diagnosed with NMO, it is important to build a support system that includes family, friends, professionals, and support groups. Individuals with major disabilities may need the support of doctors who specialize in NMO, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social services professionals.
Call your health care provider if you notice sudden changes or find you require more help than usual, or if you have a change in mood, have symptoms of depression or feelings of suicide.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.