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Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis: What Is ADEM?

Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis: What Is ADEM?
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Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis


Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is also known as Acute Demyelinating Encephalomyelitis is a rare autoimmune neurological disease that causes sudden inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. When the brain and spinal cord becomes inflamed, it causes damage to the myelin, the nerve fibers in the central nervous syndrome. ADEM affects mostly children and is found more often in boys than in girls. The condition is considered a medical emergency and if left untreated, can lead to coma, stroke, or even death.

What Causes Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis?

While the exact cause of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis is not known, it is often linked to viral or bacterial infections. In many cases, ADEM appears shortly after a viral or bacterial infection. In rare cases, ADEM has also appeared shortly after a child receiving standard vaccinations.

Types of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis

There is only one type of Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis.

Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis Symptoms

  • Prolonged, severe headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Visual disturbances/changes
  • Difficulty swallowing

acute disseminated encephalomyelitis

Diagnosing Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis

Most cases of ADEM are diagnosed in emergency rooms, as Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis is a medical emergency. If you suspect that you or someone you know has ADEM, they need to be taken to a hospital immediately. There is no definitive diagnostic test to confirm ADEM. An MRI of the brain can show the swelling and inflammation caused by the condition. A lumbar puncture to assess the cerebrospinal fluid can also show signs of ADEM.

Treating Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis

Treating Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis needs to start promptly after symptoms begin. Treatment for ADEM typically consists of the IV administration of corticosteroids for one to two weeks. Corticosteroids reduce the inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. During this time, the patient needs to be closely monitored in the hospital. After two weeks of corticosteroids, the patient will still need to take oral steroids to further reduce any remaining inflammation until all signs of ADEM are completely gone.

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