Neuromyelitis optica or NMO qualifies for severe disability because it affects the central nervous system, causing blindness and paralysis.
Neuromyelitis optica or NMO qualifies for severe disability because it affects the central nervous system, causing blindness and paralysis.

Neuromyelitis optica or NMO qualifies for severe disability because it affects the central nervous system, causing blindness and paralysis.

To qualify for disability under Social Security Disability, either of the following criteria should be met:

  • Complete loss of function of a body part, such as arms or legs, lasting for at least 3 months. (Loss of function applies to paralysis and other normal function, such as sensation or loss of function of the autonomic nervous system, which affects bladder or intestinal function.)
  • Extreme difficulty when standing up from a seated position, balancing while standing or walking, or using the arms or hands.
  • Marked physical problems along with a limitation in thinking, social interactions, concentrating, and finishing tasks, or regulating emotions and controlling behavior. (Marked means worse than moderate, but not extreme.)

Besides, the disabling condition should last or be expected to last at least for a year. As NMO meets the criteria, so NMO qualifies as a disability.

What is NMO?

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO) or Devic disease is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. NMO primarily affects the myelin sheath (a layer of cells that insulates the nerves and supporting cells in the nervous system). Therefore, the disease targets the spinal cord, optic nerves, and brainstem. The damage to the optic nerves causes swelling and inflammation that cause pain and loss of vision. However, damage to the spinal cord causes weakness or paralysis in the legs or arms, loss of sensation, and problems with bladder and bowel function. Moreover, damage to the brainstem can lead to prolonged hiccups, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, or respiratory failure.

NMO is a relapsing-remitting disease. During a relapse, the new damage to optic nerves and/or spinal cord can cause additional disability.

Unlike multiple sclerosis, NMO isn’t a progressive disease. Hence, preventing relapse is crucial to prevent further disabilities.

There are two types of NMO:

  1. Relapsing form: It is the most common type of NMO and mainly affects women over men. It has periodic flare-ups with some respite in between.
  2. Monophasic form: It involves a single attack that lasts for 1-2 months. Both men and women are equally affected by this form.


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What are the impacts of symptoms on the daily life of a patient with NMO?

The most prevalent symptoms in a patient with NMO are:

  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of color vision and complete blindness
  • Weakness or numbness in the arms and legs
  • Paralysis of the arms and legs
  • Difficulty controlling the bladder or bowels
  • Uncontrollable vomiting and hiccups

Due to the above symptoms, the patients must undergo severe physical and emotional distress. Other impacts include:

  • Frustration at having to concentrate and plan everything in advance
  • Physical and emotional dependence on others
  • Degrading self-confidence
  • Need to develop other senses, such as hearing, memory, touch, and vibrations
  • Negative effect on their daily activities, mood, ability to walk, enjoyment of life, and relationships
  • Restrictions on employment or education
  • Bladder problems cause embarrassment, humiliation, decreased self-confidence, and reduction in social activities

How to live with NMO?

Living becomes difficult with NMO because the disability worsens over time. Some of the complications of NMO include:

Some people may require ventilators for breathing purposes. People with NMO should seek support from friends, family, and support groups to deal with the trauma. A person with major disabilities may also require support from neurologists (who specialize in NMO), occupational therapists, physical therapists, and social services professionals.


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Medically Reviewed on 4/2/2021
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO).

John Hopkins Medicine. Neuromyelitis Optica.

Taylor and Francis Group. Disability and Rehabilitation.