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How is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) differentiated from other conditions with similar symptoms?

ANSWER

ADEM has a lot in common with multiple sclerosis and other diseases that damage myelin. They share some symptoms, like muscle weakness, numbness, loss of vision, and loss of balance.

But MS is rare in children. Other differences can also help your doctor make the right diagnosis. Here are some examples:

The doctor has to rule out other illnesses with similar symptoms, too, like infections of the brain and spinal cord such as meningitis.

  • Kids with ADEM may have a fever, a headache, seizures, or trouble thinking clearly.
  • The disease usually appears soon after a viral illness. There's no such link with multiple sclerosis.
  • An ADEM attack usually happens once, while multiple sclerosis involves many episodes over time.
  • Tests of spinal fluid usually show certain proteins when you have MS, but not ADEM.
  • With ADEM, spinal fluid usually has more white blood cells than normal.
  • Damage to the brain from ADEM and damage caused by multiple sclerosis look different on an MRI. It's more widespread with ADEM.

SOURCES:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "NINDS Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis Information Page."

Medscape: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis."

The Transverse Myelitis Association: "Disease Information."

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)."

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM): Patient and Family Education."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)."

Boston Children's Hospital: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) Testing and Diagnosis," "Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis And Related Disorders Program at Boston Children's Hospital," "Treatments for Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) in Children," "Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) symptoms & causes in children."

UpToDate: "Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis in children: Treatment and prognosis."

Reviewed by Neil Lava on May 6, 2018

SOURCES:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "NINDS Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis Information Page."

Medscape: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis."

The Transverse Myelitis Association: "Disease Information."

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)."

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM): Patient and Family Education."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)."

Boston Children's Hospital: "Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) Testing and Diagnosis," "Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis And Related Disorders Program at Boston Children's Hospital," "Treatments for Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) in Children," "Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) symptoms & causes in children."

UpToDate: "Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis in children: Treatment and prognosis."

Reviewed by Neil Lava on May 6, 2018

NEXT QUESTION:

How long are patients with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) hospitalized?

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