Symptoms of Devic’s Disease

Eye

Devic’s disease is a rare but serious condition which involves damage to myelin, a tissue which surrounds the nerves in spinal cord and optic nerve which is caused by the immune system. It releases antibodies which attack myelin in spinal cord or/and optic nerve which interferes with the conduction of the nerve signals and manifests in the so-called transverse myelitis and optic neuritis.

A person with Devic’s disease can experience either transverse myelitis or optic neuritis, or both. Symptoms of transverse myelitis may include:

Symptoms of optic neuritis involve the sight and may include:

Symptoms involving other parts of the body are rare but it is also possible to experience facial numbness, headache and tremors.

When receiving treatment – corticosteroid drugs with or without immunosuppressant therapy, or plasma exchange therapy, symptoms of Devic’s disease improve and most patients recover. However, about one fifth of people suffer permanent vision loss and about one third has permanent paralysis in one or both legs. In addition, most people with Devic’s disease suffer relapses and as a result, they eventually develop blindness or/and paralysis because with each attack more myelin is destroyed. Over 70 percent of patients have Devic’s disease with relapses which, unfortunately, cannot be prevented. The available treatments help reduce their frequency but do not prevent them. The attack may reoccur within a few months or a few years but the available data reveals that about 50 percent of patients with relapses develops blindness or/and paralysis within five years from the first attack. People who develop transverse myelitis are also at increased risk of developing respiratory failure which is the most common cause of death from complications of Devic’s disease.

As the damage to myelin worsens, the patients usually need additional treatments to manage symptoms of Devic’s disease. Pain, muscle spasms and urinary/bowel problems are managed with anticonvulsant drugs such as carbamatepine. Patients with permanent vision loss or paralysis are provided with physical therapy and motility education to help them improve quality of life. Devic’s disease often takes toll on psychological health as well, especially in patients with repeating attacks or/and permanent disabilities. Symptoms of Devic’s disease are therefore often also accompanied by symptoms of depression which may include:

Living with Devic’s disease is emotionally stressful and feeling depressed is not unusual, however, it is important to distinguish between feeling depressed and having depression. It is a medical condition which will not go away on its own and requires treatment just like Devic’s disease otherwise it gets worse. Fortunately, depression can be successfully treated.