Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and multiple sclerosis (MS) are often confused with each other because they share some similarities, but they are definitely two completely separate conditions with major differences. One thing they do share in common is that unfortunately, both NMO and MS are fairly common, particularly in North America. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, neuromyelitis optica affects an estimated 4,000 people in the U.S. and a quarter million worldwide. On the other hand, nearly 1-million people in the U.S. are living with MS and an average of 1 in every 385 Canadians.
Due to the prevalence of both NMO and MS, as well as the misunderstanding around both of them, it’s important we take some time to learn more about these conditions. To get better informed, take some time to read this article which will provide an explanation of each condition, point out their similarities, and finally outline some of the major differences. Take a look…
1. What is Neuromyelitis Optica?
Sometimes referred to as Devic’s disease, NMO is an autoimmune disorder that causes the cells and antibodies in the immune system to attack the optic nerves and spinal cord. It can even cause them to attack the brain. Not surprisingly, these attacks can cause some serious damage starting with swelling and inflammation which can lead to pain and loss of vision. The damage to the spinal cord results in weakness or paralysis in the legs or arms, loss of sensation, and problems with the bladder and bowel function, says the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The source goes on to explain that NMO is a relapsing-remitting disease which means it comes and goes. As a result the condition can get worse over time with every new relapse as new damage to the optic nerves and/or spinal cord leads to accumulating disability. Another important thing to know is that the cause of NMO is largely unknown, but it’s thought to be “due to a specific attack on the aquaporin-4 (AQP4) water channel located within the optic nerves and spinal cord,” writes the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Aquaporins (AQPs) are proteins that transport water across cell membranes.” More than 70-percent of NMO and NMOSD patients test positive for an antibody marker in their blood. These markers are either NMO-IgG or anti-AQP4 antibody.