Why a Misdiagnosis of MS Could Kill You if You’ve Got NMO

Most everyone these days has heard about multiple sclerosis (MS) but aren’t so familiar with neuromyelitis optica (NMO), which is also called Devic’s disease or Devic’s syndrome.

What’s so important to know is that frequently people with NMO are misdiagnosed with MS because many of the symptoms are familiar.

And what usually happens, is that good-meaning neurologists prescribe a disease-modifying drug (DMD) to treat the “MS.”

It just makes, sense, right? I mean, after all, NMO was, until recently, considered an aggressive form of MS. Both diseases are relapsing and remitting, with symptoms that are usually separated over several years.

Even if a condition looks and quacks like a duck (metaphorically speaking), that doesn’t mean everything is as it appears. Source: www.giphy.com

So “proactive” neurologists were prescribing treatments trying to slow the progression of the disease.

These days, the medical and scientific communities have learned that DMDs could have dire consequences for the misdiagnosed person.

The wrong treatment could cause a severe exacerbation which could be life-threatening.

Although NMO is a rare disease—far more rare than MS—and is also a demyelinating disease like MS, scientists now know that NMO is typically severe and far more aggressive, leading to disability much more rapidly. They now understand that these two diseases exist separately, their symptoms overlap.

A bit like a Venn diagram of rare disease. Source: www.giphy.com

Most people “present” (I just despise that term) with classic optic neuritis, longitudinally extensive myelitis, with a positive NMO-IgG test result.

To learn more about specific clinical information (that’s actually fairly easy to understand) visit this site.

With an MRI test result, here are the most common findings:

  • Swollen optic nerves (bilateral) and T2 lesion seen with contrast
  • Three or more T2 lesions on the spinal cord, or some type of “involvement”
  • Absence of lesions on the brain, but if/when they do appear, these are different from lesions found in the brains of people with MS

Unlike MS, treatment is lacking although Rituxan is demonstrating some promising findings.


Alisha Stone

Alisha Stone

Alisha Stone has a BA in psychology and is dedicated to improving the lives of others living with chronic illnesses.

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