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Devic's disease

Treating neuromyelitis optica
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There is no cure for neuromyelitis optica (NMO), but some treatments are available.


Corticosteroids (steroids) are any type of medication containing hormones (powerful chemicals that have a wide range of effects on the body).

Corticosteroids may be used to treat relapses of NMO by reducing the inflammation (redness and swelling) that they cause. You may be treated with corticosteroids:

  • intravenously (through a vein)
  • orally (taken by mouth)

See the Health A-Z topic about Corticosteroids for more information about corticosteroids and their side effects.

Other medications

NMO is an autoimmune disorder, which means that it is caused by the immune system (the body’s defence system) attacking its own tissues.

Therefore, medication to suppress the immune system (prevent it working) is thought to be an effective treatment. One possible medication is azathioprine, but it can cause a number of side effects including:

  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • diarrhoea
  • hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • hair loss
  • pancreatitis - inflammation of the pancreas (a
  • small organ behind the stomach)
  • pneumonitis - inflammation of the lungs caused by a virus
  • colitis - inflammation of the colon (large intestine)

If you experience any of these side effects, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.

Pain relief

Episodes of NMO can cause pain, and you may need to take painkillers to relieve this. Your GP can advise you about what medication will work best. Some pain relief medication is available over-the-counter (OTC) from pharmacies, or your GP may be able to prescribe something stronger, if necessary. 

Symptom control

NMO can cause a number of other symptoms, such as difficulty controlling your bladder, or muscle spasms (when the muscles contract tightly and painfully). These can be treated separately with a number of other medications. For example, you may be prescribed an anticonvulsant (antiseizure) medication to help relax your muscles

Future research

There is currently a lack of research into possible future treatments for NMO. This may be because the condition is so rare that it is difficult to organise clinical trials (medical research that tests one type of treatment against another).

Multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition that affects the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) is similar to NMO. However, some medication that works on MS, such as beta interferons, has so far not proven effective for treating NMO.

Further research is under way to find possible treatments for NMO. For example, one small study has found that a medication that is usually used to treat people having organ transplants can help improve relapse rates in people with NMO.


NMO can result in some degree of disability. You may require mobility or visual aids, such as:

  • a wheelchair
  • a walking frame
  • magnifying lenses
  • large print books

You may also need to have physiotherapy (see below).


If you are experiencing physical problems, such as weakness, stiffness, or poor co-ordination, you may be referred to a physiotherapist.

A physiotherapist uses a variety of treatments, such as massage, exercise, and hydrotherapy (special exercises in warm, shallow, water) to help you recover physically.

See the Health A-Z topic about Physiotherapy for more information.

Hormones are groups of powerful chemicals that are produced by the body and have a wide range of effects.

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.

Immune system
The immune system is the body's defence system, which helps protect it from disease, bacteria and viruses.

Last reviewed: 23/03/2010
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Last modified: Oct 2016