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What is NMO?

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) used to be known as Devic’s disease, is a rare neurological condition.

Neurological conditions are caused by disease or damage to the brain, spinal cord or nerves.

NMO most commonly affects the optic nerves and spinal cord, which can lead to optic neuritis and transverse myelitis (see below).

Some persons may only experience optic neuritis or myelitis but may have the aquaporin-4 antibody and they are said to have NMO spectrum disorders (NMOSD).

Each person with NMO will experience different symptoms and require individually tailored care and support.  The symptoms of NMO can range from mild to severe.  In some cases, there may only be one attack of optic neuritis or transverse myelitis, with good recover and no further relapses for a long time.  However, in severe cases, there can be a number of attacks which lead to disability.  Disability occurs because the body cannot always fully recover from damage caused by the attacks on the spinal cord and optic nerve.

Some of the main symptoms of NMO include:

  • muscle weakness – reduced strength in one or more muscles that affect mobility
  • impaired eyesight
  • nerve pain- which can be a sharp, burning, shooting or numbing pain
  • spasms and increased muscle tone – from nerve damage that affects muscle control
  • bladder and bowel and sexual problems

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is inflammation of the nerve that leads from the eye to the brain.  It causes a reduction or loss of vision and can affect both eyes at the same time.

Other symptoms of neuritis include eye pain, which is usually made worse by movement, and reduced colour vision where colours may appear ‘washed out’ or less vivid than usual.

Transverse myelitis

Transverse myelitis is inflammation of the spinal cord.  It causes weakness in the arms and legs which can range from a mild ‘heavy’ feeling in one limb, to complete paralysis in all four limbs.

It may cause someone to have numbness, tingling or burning below the affected area of the spinal cord and be more sensitive to touch, cold and heat.  There may also be tight and painful muscle contractions (known as tonic muscle spasms).