What are autoimmune demyelinating diseases?

In autoimmune demyelinating diseases, the body’s own immune system can attack healthy cells.  This can happen anywhere in the body, including the myelin covering nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves.  These diseases are not the result of a genetic defect from birth.  They are acquired at some time later in life. Within this category of diseases are also the clinically isolated syndromes that don’t fit into a specific disease, but have symptoms of autoimmune demyelination.

Types of demyelinating diseases

Different types of demyelinating diseases can affect different areas of the body.

For example:

  • Transverse myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord.
  • Optic neuritis is inflammation involving the optic nerves.
  • Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (also known as ADEM) is a sudden inflammation of the brain, but can also affect the spinal cord and optic nerves.
  • Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) predominantly affects the spinal cord and optic nerves.

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