Multiple Sclerosis & NMO

Multiple Sclerosis and Neuromyelitis Optica

Until recently, Neuromyelitis Optica was thought to be a type of Multiple Sclerosis. However, recent discoveries indicate that NMO and MS are distinct diseases. Traditionally spinal cord lesions seen in NMO are longer than MS but this is not always the case. With so many symptoms in common, NMO can sometimes be confused with MS or other diseases. But these diseases are treated in different ways and early detection and treatment help ensure best outcomes.

Video: Why is it important to distinguish NMO from MS?

Similar Symptoms

NMO symptoms can vary from person to person and may resemble MS symptoms in many ways. NMO is most commonly characterized by inflammation of the spinal cord/or optic nerves, causing any of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid onset of eye pain or loss of vision (optic neuritis).
  • Limb weakness, numbness, or partial paralysis (transverse myelitis).
  • Shooting pain or tingling in the neck, back, or abdomen.
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control.
  • Prolonged nausea, vomiting, or hiccups.
  • Sometimes these symptoms are temporary, and resolve on their own.

In any case, it is important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor to help consider NMO in your diagnosis.

NMO-IgG Antibody Test

The recent discovery of an antibody in the blood of individuals with NMO gives doctors a reliable biomarker to distinguish NMO from MS. The antibody, known as NMO-IgG, seems to be present in about 70 percent of those with NMO and is not found in people with MS or other similar conditions.

The test can be ordered by any primary care physician.

Similar Conditions

In addition to MS, other conditions with which NMO shares symptoms include:

  • Unexplained Transverse Myelitis (TM)
  • Acute Disseminated Encephalomyselitis (ADEM)
  • Unexplained Optic Neuritis
  • Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON)
  • Sjögren’s Syndrome Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
  • Mixed Connective Tissue Disease (MCTD)

For more information and resources, please visit our list of Advocacy Organizations that includes groups focused on NMO, MS, and other diseases.

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