Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis or ADEM is characterized by a widespread attack of inflammation which takes place mainly in the brain or spinal cord. However, this inflammation is only for a short duration. The inflammation damages myelin which acts as the protective cover of nerve fibers. This inflammation occurs mostly after infection and rarely after mumps or measles or even rubella vaccination.

When the myelin is damaged, it starts to affect the vision (in one or both the eyes). There is difficulty in eye to hand co-ordination. In some severe cases, it weakens the entire body leading to paralysis too. ADEM affects children more than adults, but it can affect anyone.

What are the common symptoms?

There are several symptoms, most of which appear in a rapid fashion before disappearing. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Fever – mild in the beginning
  • Fatigue – a sense of lethargy or tiredness
  • Headache – quite frequent
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • And in some cases seizures too
  • Confusion, drowsiness, and even coma like state
  • Unsteadiness and inability to stand still. A sense of falling is there.
  • Vision is affected (in one or both the eyes.) it begins with blurring and ends with double vision.
  • Trouble in swallowing water and even food items
  • Weakness is felt in the arms or legs

In case of adults with ADEM, common symptoms include:

  • Poor motor movement
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Fever with mild headache
  • Upper respiratory tract infection

What are the causes and/or risk factors associated with this ailment?

By now, we know that ADEM occurs mainly after bacterial and viral infections and rarely after measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination. In some cases, the inflammation might occur after three to four months of the vaccination. Hence, you need to watch out for the symptoms.

This ailment happens to be an immune reaction – in other words, instead of fighting the inflammation, it affects the immune system and erodes its effectiveness of fighting an infection.

Diagnosis for Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)

To diagnose ADEM, the following steps are generally followed:

  • A thorough physical & neurological examination is carried out
  • Patient’s medical and family history is taken into account
  • The progression of the symptoms and their timeline is noted
  • MRI of the brain is recommended along with other tests

How is Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) treated?

There is no specific treatment available for this rare health condition. All the information that is available is on the basis of the small articles and write ups that have been published on the same. There are no established guidelines of treatment yet.

At present, steroid medications are the frontline treatment methods. Most popular is the intravenous methyl-prednisolone. These medications are given over a time frame of 5 to 7 days followed by oral steroids. The main objective is to minimize the inflammation and speed up the recovery process. However, there is one vital factor that needs to be kept in check when the steroids are given – namely one has to make sure that blood glucose, potassium and sleep pattern should not be too high or too low.

Other medications/treatment methods include:

  • Intravenous immune globulin (IVIG)
  • Plasmapheresis
  • Chemotherapy

If your kid or anyone in your family is experiencing these symptoms, visit a doctor immediately. However, keep in mind that these symptoms can be due to a normal viral infection as well. Hence, we recommend that you visit a neuro-physician for the right diagnosis and treatment.