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Who Is At Risk For Neuromyelitis Optica & Is There A Blood Test For It?

Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) occurs because your body’s immune system is attacking healthy cells in your central nervous system. The implication of this autoimmune defect is that you have an attack that can last for days or weeks, and in other cases, you may go for a long time, say months or years, before having an attack. The areas majorly affected by the condition are the spinal cord and optic nerves. Neuromyelitis optica, where the disease episode is one that lasts over a long period of time, is referred to as monophasic neuromyelitis optica, whereas if the disease episodes are far in between with recovery periods, then it is known as relapsing neuromyelitis optica. Men and women alike can develop the condition, but women are more likely to have monophasic form, while the likelihood of having relapsing form is equal in both men and women. Children can also develop the condition.[1]

Who Is At Risk For Neuromyelitis Optica?

The exact cause of neuromyelitis optica is not clear, but there are several factors that may trigger the condition. For one, neuromyelitis doesn’t seem to be hereditary, but it is associated with other autoimmune diseases. Some common autoimmune diseases are type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and vitiligo. Regardless, that doesn’t mean if you have either of the named autoimmune disorders, you will develop neuromyelitis optica or if you have NMO, then you have another autoimmune disorder.[1]

As earlier mentioned, adults – men and women, as well as children can develop the condition. The onset of neuromyelitis optica varies from childhood to adulthood, but there are two peaks; one in childhood and the other at 40 years for adults. Individuals with the antibody, NMO-IgG, seem to have the condition, which is present in about 70% of those with neuromyelitis optica.[2] Other risk factors for neuromyelitis optica are the most important risk factors are; individuals of Asian and African ethnicities, Ebstein Barr virus seropositivity, and a negative history of smoking.[3]

Is There A Blood Test For It?

If you’ve been wondering whether there’s a blood test for neuromyelitis optica used in its diagnosis, well the answer is yes. When you go to a doctor with symptoms mimicking the condition, your doctor may do a blood test to determine the presence of the antibody NMO-IgG. It is also known as the aquaporin-4 autoantibody — AQP4, and it helps doctors distinguish neuromyelitis optica from other neurological conditions including multiple sclerosis.[4] So far, this antibody is unique in patients with neuromyelitis optica, and has become a significant biomarker for the condition. In various research institutions, it’s been identified that up to 73% of patients with neuromyelitis optica based on a blood test have the autoantibody.[5]

Other Diagnostic Tests For Neuromyelitis Optica

Your doctor will diagnose neuromyelitis optica by reviewing your medical history and any symptoms that you may be exhibiting. Adding to that, the doctor may conduct a physical examination to asses the extent of damage to the eyes as well as your arms, legs and other areas where muscle weakness can cause great damage. Other than a blood test, a doctor may also perform a neurological examination, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a stimuli response test or a spinal tap (lumbar puncture).

A neurological examination helps assess your movement functionality, muscle function including strength, coordination, and sensation, as well as memory and cognitive function alongside speech and vision. A specialist will also check on your eyes to assess their functionality and in cases of damage, the extent of the damage. An MRI is useful in giving a detailed overview of the optic nerve, spinal cord, and brain in cases where these three parts are involved. For the spinal cord, the doctor may go ahead and carry out a spinal tap, where a small amount of your spinal fluid is extracted to test for levels of the immune cells, proteins, and antibodies in the fluid. As for a stimuli response test, the essence of the test is to determine how well your brain responds to different stimuli including sounds, light, sights, and even touch.


Neuromyelitis optica is a condition that can affect anyone, male, female, and even children. However, women seem to be at a higher risk of developing the monophasic form of neuromyelitis optica, whereas the chances of developing the relapsing form are at par with that of men. Other than that, individuals with African descent are more likely to be diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, as well as those ailing from other autoimmune disorders. A blood test is one of the many procedures that can be carried out to diagnose the condition. It is effective in that it helps identify the presence of AQP4, which is a distinguishing biomarker of the condition from other diseases that may be related to neuromyelitis optica.


Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 7, 2019

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