Neuromyelitis optica is an autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves of the eyes and the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.
Neuromyelitis optica is an autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves of the eyes and the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body’s own tissues and organs. In neuromyelitis optica, the autoimmune attack causes inflammation of the nerves, and the resulting damage leads to the signs and symptoms of the condition. Neuromyelitis optica is characterized by optic neuritis, which is inflammation of the nerve that carries information from the eye to the brain (optic nerve). Optic neuritis causes eye pain and vision loss, which can occur in one or both eyes. Neuromyelitis optica is also characterized by transverse myelitis, which is inflammation of the spinal cord. The inflammation associated with transverse myelitis damages the spinal cord, causing a lesion that often extends the length of three or more bones of the spine (vertebrae). In addition, myelin, which is the covering that protects nerves and promotes the efficient transmission of nerve impulses, can be damaged. Transverse myelitis causes weakness, numbness, and paralysis of the arms and legs. Other effects of spinal cord damage can include disturbances in sensations, loss of bladder and bowel control, uncontrollable hiccupping, and nausea. In addition, muscle weakness may make breathing difficult and can cause life-threatening respiratory failure in people with neuromyelitis optica. (NIH – Genetics Home Reference).