Menu   WellSpan Health

Health Library

Health Library

Neuromyelitis Optica

(Devic’s syndrome)

Neuromyelitis optica, sometimes called NMO, is a rare yet severe inflammatory process of the central nervous system. The condition mainly affects the spinal cord and the optic nerves, or the nerves that carry signals from the eyes to the brain. As a result, the disease can cause paralysis and blindness.

With neuromyelitis optica, your immune system attacks a substance in your body called myelin—think of it as 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.

Facts about neuromyelitis optica

Neuromyelitis optica most often strikes during childhood or when adults are in their 40s. NMO is 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 neuromyelitis optica. Vision problems with multiple sclerosis usually affect one eye at a time, but NMO may affect both eyes at the same time.

Types of neuromyelitis optica

Neuromyelitis optica comes in two forms:

  • Relapsing form, which has periodic flare-ups, with some recovery in between. This is the more common kind, and women are far more likely to have this form than men.

  • Monophasic form, which involves a single attack that lasts a month or two. Men and women get this type equally.


These are possible symptoms of NMO:

  • Pain in the eyes

  • Loss of vision

  • Weakness or numbness in the arms and legs

  • Paralysis of the arms and legs

  • Difficulty controlling the bladder or bowels

  • Uncontrollable vomiting and hiccups 


Doctors may do a variety of tests if they suspect neuromyelitis optica:

  • MRI scan of your brain and spinal cord

  • Samples of your blood and spinal fluid to check for signs of the disease

  • Tests to check on how well your optic nerves are working


Experts don't consider this condition curable. But doctors can prescribe medicines or other treatments to reduce the effects of the disease and relieve symptoms. These may include:

  • Corticosteroid drugs to halt the immune system's effect on your nerves

  • Immunosuppressant drugs

  • A process called plasmapheresis, which removes proteins from the blood that may be playing a role in the condition

  • Other treatments to address symptoms such as pain and loss of bowel and bladder control

You may also need help from health care providers to cope with blindness and paralysis.


It's not known whether you can prevent the disease. Certain treatments may help prevent future attacks. You may also need medical care to treat or prevent complications of NMO. These include an inability to breathe, blood clots, and urinary tract infections.

Managing neuromyelitis optica

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.

Neuromyelitis Optica - WellSpan Health

Author: Metcalf, Eric
Online Medical Reviewer: Jones, Niya, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2012-06-17T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2012-06-18T00:00:00
Published Date: 2012-06-18T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2011-02-11T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

I would like to:

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.