Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is a condition that causes inflammation and damage to nerves in the eyes, spinal cord, and sometimes brain.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with this condition, you might be wondering: Can NMO be cured? Is NMO fatal? Does NMO get worse over time?

Read on to understand the answers to these pressing questions.

There’s currently no known cure for NMO. But NMO treatments may reduce the number of relapses you experience.

If you’ve tested positive for a type of antibody known as anti-AQP4, your doctor may prescribe eculizumab (Soliris) or inebilizumab (Uplizna). These targeted immune-suppressing therapies may help limit relapses in people with NMO who produce anti-AQP4 antibodies.

Several other medications may also help reduce relapses in people with NMO, including those who don’t have anti-AQP4 antibodies. These include:

  • azathioprine (Imuran)
  • rituximab (Rituxan)
  • mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept)

Your doctor may also prescribe additional medications, physical therapy, or other treatments to help manage symptoms and complications of NMO.

NMO affects different people in different ways. It’s possible to live for many years with NMO, especially if you receive treatment early on with immune-modulating medications.

Some people develop life threatening complications from NMO. One small study found that about 1 in 5 people with NMO develop breathing difficulties. Those breathing problems may require treatment with a ventilator. Fatal respiratory failure sometimes occurs.

Starting treatment soon after diagnosis is important to reduce the risk of death. The authors of a 2019 review article report that about one-third of people with NMO who don’t get any treatment die within 5 years of their first episode of symptoms.

Getting early treatment may help you live longer and healthier with NMO.

It’s rare for NMO to have a secondary progressive stage like you’d see in multiple sclerosis (MS). Disabilities tend to occur due to multiple acute relapses or episodes.

During an attack, symptoms get worse over the course of several days. After each relapse, NMO symptoms may partially improve. But over time, multiple relapses tend to cause lasting nerve damage that may result in irreversible vision loss, muscle weakness, paralysis, and other impairments.

Treatment with targeted therapies or other immune-modulating medications may help prevent relapses and limit impairments.

NMO rarely has a secondary progressive stage. It can cause multiple relapses. You may experience partial improvements after each relapse but develop lasting impairments over time.

There is no cure for NMO, but starting treatment quickly helps increase the likelihood that you’ll live longer and with better overall health.

Early treatment with targeted therapies or other immune-modulating medications may help prevent relapses, limit the development of impairments, and prevent early death from NMO. Your doctor can help you learn more about your treatment options.