The symptoms of neuromyelitis optica (NMO) vary from person to person. However, NMO is most commonly characterised by one or more episodes of:
- optic neuritis - inflammation (swelling and redness) of the optic nerve (the nerve that connects your eye to your brain)
- transverse myelitis - inflammation of the spinal cord
Symptoms of optic neuritis include:
- inflammation of the optic nerve
- reduced or lost vision in at least one eye - this is usually temporary, but it can be permanent, and is made worse by exercise or heat
- swelling of the optic disc (the area at the back of your eye where the optic nerve is connected)
- eye pain - which is usually made worse by movement, and is at its worst after a week before disappearing after several days
- reduced colour vision - colours may appear 'washed out' or less vivid than usual
If you develop optic neuritis, it may have implications for driving (see box, to the right).
Symptoms of transverse myelitis include:
- inflammation of the spinal cord
- pain in the neck or back
- shooting sensations in the arms, legs, or abdomen (stomach)
- altered sensations - you may be more sensitive to touch, cold, and heat, and you may feel numbness, tingling, coldness, or burning below the affected area of your spinal cord
- weakness in your arms or legs - this can range from a mild 'heavy' feeling in one limb, to complete paralysis in all four limbs
- bladder and bowel problems - increased frequency or need to urinate, difficulty urinating, urinary, or bowel, incontinence (unintentional passing of urine or stools) or constipation (being unable to completely empty your bowels)
- muscle spasms - when your muscles contract tightly and painfully
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
- loss of appetite
Cases of NMO can range from one mild attack of optic neuritis and one episode of transverse myelitis with near complete recovery and no further relapses to a number of attacks throughout your life, possibly resulting in permanent disability.
In cases where a person experiences only relapsing optic neuritis, or relapsing myelitis, it is known as NMO spectrum disorder.
Generally, NMO affects only the optic nerve and spinal cord. However, in rare cases it can also affect parts of the brain. When the brain stem (the inner part of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord) is affected, it can cause symptoms such as uncontrollable vomiting and hiccups.
The spinal cord is a column of nervous tissue located in the spinal column. It sends messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
The nerve that connects your eye to your brain.
The brain controls thought, memory and emotion. It also sends messages to the body controlling movement, speech and senses.
Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury. It causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.
Incontinence is when you pass urine (urinal incontinence), or stools or gas (faecal incontinence), because you cannot control your bladder or bowels.
Constipation is when you pass stools less often than usual, or when you are having difficulty going to the toilet because your stools are hard and small.
Last reviewed: 23/03/2010