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More on Neuromyelitis Optica

Neurology and Neuroscience

Neuromyelitis Optica

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Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is an uncommon disease in which there is inflammation in the optic nerves (optic neuritis) and the spinal cord (transverse myelitis). NMO leads to a loss of myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds nerve fibers (much like insulation) and helps nerve signals travel from cell to cell.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital neurologists are experts in the diagnosis of NMO and the management of patients' symptoms.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The optic neuritis of NMO causes pain in the eye and vision loss. Transverse myelitis causes weakness, numbness, and sometimes paralysis of the arms and legs, along with problems with sensation and loss of bladder and bowel control.

Patients may undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as part of the evaluation process. In patients with NMO, lesions in the spinal cord tend to appear longer than those seen in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), often longer than three or more vertebral bodies of the spine.

The discovery of an antibody in the blood of individuals with NMO has provided doctors with a reliable biomarker to distinguish NMO from MS. The antibody, called NMO-IgG, is present in about 70 percent of patients with NMO and is not found in people with MS or other similar conditions.


There is no cure for NMO, but NewYork-Presbyterian physicians offer patients therapies to control their symptoms and reduce the incidence of relapses. Patients may receive steroid drugs to control inflammation and treat an acute attack of NMO symptoms.

Our doctors offer plasma exchange (plasmapheresis), a technique that cleanses the NMO-IgG antibodies from the patient's blood. They also use medications that modify the production of NMO-IgG, such as rituximab (Rituxan®) and azathioprine (Imuran®).


Research is under way to find better ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure rare neurological syndromes such as NMO.

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