Disorders Related to Multiple Sclerosis
At the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center, we are experts at diagnosing and treating disorders that are similar to MS or linked to MS. This is important because:
- Some of these conditions can be a warning sign for MS.
- We can make sure you get the monitoring and prompt treatment you need.
- We have the expertise to avoid misdiagnosing these conditions as MS, so you avoid treatment you don’t need.
Conditions we treat
The following conditions are among disorders we treat at the Multiple Sclerosis Center.
See separate pages on:
- Diagnosing and treating multiple sclerosis
- Autoimmune encephalitis
- Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD)
- Transverse myelitis
Genetic counseling: Some of these disorders may be passed down in families. Expert medical geneticists at OHSU’s Neuro Genetics Clinic can help you identify and manage risk.
What is optic neuritis? Optic neuritis is a demyelinating disease, which means it damages the myelin, or sheath, that covers nerve fibers. In optic neuritis, the damage causes inflammation in an optic nerve. Each eye connects to an optic nerve that carries information to the brain. Optic neuritis may be an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues.
Who gets optic neuritis? Optic neuritis most often affects people ages 20 to 40. Like with many autoimmune diseases, it is more common in women.
Symptoms: Temporary vision loss and pain, usually in one eye, are early symptoms.
Treatment: In many cases, no treatment is needed. Optic neuritis can improve on its own, with no permanent vision loss. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medications called corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. In rare cases, some vision loss is permanent.
Optic neuritis and MS: Optic neuritis is a common early symptom of MS. About half of patients who have an episode of optic neuritis go on to develop MS. But the condition can come from other causes as well, including infections or autoimmune diseases such as lupus and sarcoidosis.
- What is Optic Neuritis? American Academy of Ophthalmology
- Optic Neuritis, Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center
What is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis? ADEM is a rare type of autoimmune encephalitis that causes swelling of the brain, spinal cord and sometimes an optic nerve. It is a demyelinating disease, which means it damages the myelin that covers nerve fibers. Experts don't know the exact cause, but the disease often follows a viral or bacterial infection.
Who gets acute disseminated encephalomyelitis? Unlike MS, ADEM more often affects children. About four in five children who get it are younger than 10. Learn about neurologic care at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
Symptoms: Early symptoms of the disease come on rapidly. They include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurry or double vision
- Loss of balance
- Weakness or paralysis in the arms or legs
- In serious cases, loss of consciousness or coma
Treatment: The first treatment is usually corticosteroids given by IV to reduce inflammation.
Recovery: Most people begin to recover within days and have a full or almost full recovery within six months. Some cases may cause nerve damage. Long-term effects can include vision loss, weakness or numbness in parts of the body, or problems with thinking or memory.
ADEM and MS: ADEM’s symptoms can be similar to those of MS. It is often misdiagnosed as an early episode of MS. But ADEM most often includes only one attack, while MS is a chronic (ongoing) disease.
- Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, National Multiple Sclerosis Society
- Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis Information Page, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
What is leukodystrophy? Leukodystrophy covers a group of rare diseases that affect the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves connect the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.
These diseases are caused by genetic changes that lead to damage or abnormal development of myelin, the sheath that covers nerve fibers. They are generally progressive, meaning symptoms worsen over time.
Types: There are more than 50 types of leukodystrophy. The types cause different problems, depending on how the genetic mutation affects myelin. Specific types include:
- Adult-onset autosomal dominant leukodystrophy
- Alexander disease
- CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy)
- Canavan disease
Who gets leukodystrophy? Most leukodystrophies are inherited, meaning they are passed from parent(s) to child. In a small portion of cases, leukodystrophies appear to arise on their own. Learn about neurologic care at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
Symptoms: In some cases, symptoms appear soon after birth. In others, symptoms develop later in childhood or in adulthood. Depending on the type, leukodystrophies can cause problems with:
Treatment: There are no cures for leukodystrophies, but treatment can manage symptoms. Medications can relieve pain and ease symptoms, including seizures. Physical therapy can help with muscle tightness (spasticity) or movement problems.
Leukodystrophy and MS: Leukodystrophies are often misdiagnosed as MS because some symptoms are the same. But treatments for MS will not help leukodystrophies and may have harmful side effects.
- What is Leukodystrophy? United Leukodystrophy Foundation
- Leukodystrophy, National Organization for Rare Disorders
What is Susac syndrome? Susac syndrome is a rare disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the inner lining of small blood vessels in the brain, eye and inner ear. The attack causes swelling that blocks or partly blocks blood vessels, disrupting the flow of oxygen and nutrients.
Susac syndrome can cause problems in how the brain, eye and inner ear work. People with Susac syndrome can have one attack or attacks that come and go. Depending on the type, the disease can last about one to three years, or three to 10 or more years
Recovery: Most people recover, and many show little or no long-term effects. Some people have permanent changes such as hearing loss or trouble thinking.
Who gets Susac syndrome? Susac syndrome is twice as common in women. It most often affects people ages 20 to 40.
Symptoms: Signs of Susac syndrome derive from problems with the brain, eye and inner ear. Some people have symptoms in only one or two areas. Others have symptoms in all three areas but not at the same time.
- Brain-related symptoms include:
- Short-term memory loss
- Slow thinking
- Slurred speech
- Personality changes
- Severe headaches, often with vomiting.
- Vision-related symptoms include:
- A dark area in one part of your visual field
- Visual disturbances such as loss of side vision or a dark shade drawn over part of your vision
- Inner-ear symptoms include:
- Hearing loss
- Ringing in your ears
Treatment: Common medications for Susac syndrome suppress the immune system. These medications, called immunosuppressants, may include corticosteroids and a chemotherapy drug called cyclophosphamide.
Susac syndrome and MS: Susac syndrome is sometimes misdiagnosed as atypical MS. Brain scans can look similar to those of MS patients. It’s important to see a team such as ours that can quickly tell the difference. Patients with Susac can see an almost complete recovery if treated early enough.
- Susac Syndrome, National Organization for Rare Disorders
- Susac Syndrome, Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center
- Referral: To become a patient, please ask your doctor for a referral.
- Questions: For questions or follow-up appointments, call 503-494-7772.
Parking is free for patients and their visitors.
Center for Health & Healing Building 1, eighth floor
3303 S.W. Bond Ave.
Portland, OR 97239
Map and directions
Refer a patient
- Refer your patient to OHSU.
- Call 503-494-4567 to seek provider-to-provider advice.
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- Learn about OHSU research on MS and related disorders.
- Look for a clinical trial.