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Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)

What is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis? 

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is characterized by an attack on the myelin sheath of neurons in the brain and spinal cord. It typically damages the white matter of the brain and causes neurological symptoms. 

What are the symptoms of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis?

The symptoms appear rapidly, and they include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In very severe cases, seizures and comas may be symptoms. The damage done to the white matter of the brain can cause vision loss in one or both eyes, weakness, paralysis, and difficulty with voluntary muscle movement. 

What causes acute disseminated encephalomyelitis?

ADEM happens after a viral or bacterial infection, but in rare cases it is caused by a vaccination for the measles, rubella, and mumps. 

How is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis diagnosed?

An ADEM diagnosis can be difficult to obtain, as it is often misdiagnosed as an attack from multiple sclerosis. An MRI is the test used to correctly diagnose ADEM, as it will show old or new lesions in the brain. At times, a brain biopsy may be necessary. 

What are the treatments for acute disseminated encephalomyelitis?

Anti-inflammatory drugs are the main treatment, specifically corticosteroids. If these drugs are unsuccessful, doctors will use immunoglobulin or plasmapheresis. Additional treatment may be symptomatic. 

Where can I find out more about acute disseminated encephalomyelitis?

ADEM Articles