Who Treats NMO?

Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMO) is a rare autoimmune disorder that impacts the brain, spine, and nerve bundles in the eye. Getting early treatment for NMO is key to preventing relapses or attacks of the disease. Relapses lead to worse outcomes, which may include paralysis and blindness. Some of these symptoms may or may not be reversible.1

Treatment priorities include:

  • Limiting the number of relapses you have
  • Managing symptoms
  • Decreasing the risk of complications
  • Improving your overall quality of life

Find and see doctors who will help you achieve your goals. Along the way, you will have many different doctors and specialists help you to manage your NMO.

Primary care doctor

Your primary care doctor (PCP) is the family doctor you would see for a checkup or a sore throat. This doctor has general medical training and is skilled in examining and treating various acute conditions.2

However, this type of doctor is not considered a specialist and will likely refer you to the specialist doctor you need to see for NMO.

Neurologist

Neurologists use physical exams and testing to diagnose and treat complex disorders of the brain and nervous system.3

Neurologists are different from neurosurgeons. They do not perform brain or spine surgery. However, these doctors often work closely together, sometimes in the operating room. Neurologists can specialize in various areas.3,4

Neurologists trained in neuroimmunology diagnose and treat neurological autoimmune or inflammatory conditions like NMO. A neurologist is the most likely doctor to diagnose a person with NMO. However, this is not always the case.3,4

A neurologist will most likely be the doctor who provides primary treatment for NMO. They may refer you to other specialists for certain parts of your treatment.

Ophthalmologist

An ophthalmologist is a doctor specializing in eye care and vision. These doctors have completed additional training in diagnosing and treating conditions of the eye. Ophthalmologists are licensed to practice medicine and surgery. Like other doctors, ophthalmologists might also research the causes and cures for various eye conditions.5,6

Ophthalmologists that specialize in NMO are called neuro-ophthalmologists. These doctors specialize in vision and eye problems related to the nervous system, not the eyes themselves.7

Urologist

A urologist is a doctor specially trained in the diagnosis and management of diseases and conditions of the urinary system and physical problems of the kidneys. These doctors can treat anyone of any age and sex. They can have special certifications in various areas.8

Those with NMO may see a neuro-urologist, a doctor who specializes in neurologic urology. This subspecialty of urology focuses on disorders and conditions of the bladder, urinary tract, kidneys, genitalia, and adrenal glands as they relate to various brain and spine disorders.9

Physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor (physiatrist)

Physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors, also known as physiatrists, treat a wide variety of conditions. These conditions may affect the:10

  • Brain
  • Spine
  • Nerves
  • Bones
  • Muscles
  • Joints
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons

Physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors are doctors who have completed training in the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Physiatrists who treat those with NMO often have extra training and may be certified in neuromuscular medicine.10

Physical therapist and occupational therapist

Physical therapy (PT) focuses on improving movement. A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program. In most cases, PT focuses on improving posture and joint mobility, and slowing down muscle weakness. Physical therapists can also suggest mobility devices and assistive equipment.11

Occupational therapy (OT) is focused on increasing independence in daily activities. For example, an occupational therapist can help people with writing, using a computer, and dressing themselves. Occupational therapists can also:11

  • Suggest devices and modifications to improve accessibility at home, work, and school, such as mechanical lifts or resizing doors for wheelchair access
  • Work with schools to provide modifications such as elevator access, specific seating, and wheelchair accessibility
  • Suggest ways to conserve energy

Social workers

Social workers can help you navigate the complex healthcare system, including:12

  • Disability benefits
  • Accommodations for work or school
  • Assistance in finding other support services in the community

If you still need help finding a doctor who specializes in NMO, you may find the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation’s searchable database helpful.

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Written by: Katie Murphy │Last reviewed: September 2021