How is demyelinating optic neuritis (ON) characterized in multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Updated: Oct 08, 2019
  • Author: Christopher Luzzio, MD; Chief Editor: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA  more...
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Most cases of ON are retrobulbar. In these cases, "the patient sees nothing, and the doctor sees nothing" (ie, the fundus is normal). The disc may show mild hyperemia, however. Severe disc edema, marked hemorrhages, or exudate should prompt reconsideration of a diagnosis of demyelinating ON.

Optic disc pallor (involving a sector or being diffuse) often occurs months after anterior or posterior ON. Uncommon fundus findings include the following:

  • Anterior uveitis

  • Vitreitis

  • Vascular sheathing

  • Disc and papillary hemorrhages

  • Compromise of the central arterial and venous circulations

The appearance of the disc does not correlate directly with the amount of inflammation, changes in visual field, or loss of visual acuity.

Patients with ON typically have loss of visual acuity in the ipsilateral eye. Contralateral and often asymptomatic visual field loss may also be detected. A relative afferent pupillary defect is present in unilateral cases and in bilateral-but-asymmetrical cases but may be absent in bilateral and symmetrical cases.

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