Background: Epidemiologic studies have suggested different prevalence of neuromyelitis optica (NMO) in different ethnic groups. However, data on the incidence and prevalence of NMO in Caucasians are scarce.
Objective: To estimate the incidence and prevalence of NMO in a predominantly Caucasian population based on the Wingerchuk 2006 criteria.
Methods: The study was a population-based retrospective case series with longitudinal follow-up. Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), optic neuritis (ON), acute transverse myelitis (TM), and NMO from the 4 neurology and 3 ophthalmology departments in the Region of Southern Denmark having been diagnosed between 1998 and 2008 were investigated. Patients were included based on 1) episodes of ON or TM and 2) an initial brain MRI not diagnostic for MS. An immunofluorescence assay was used to determine aquaporin-4 (AQP-4) antibodies.
Results: A total of 477 patients with MS, TM, or ON were evaluated: 163 fulfilled the inclusion criteria, 42 (26%) qualified for the diagnosis of NMO, 26 (62.0%) of these were AQP4 antibody positive. All except one were Caucasian, the female:male ratio was 2.8:1, and mean age at onset was 35.6 years (range 15-64 years). The clinical presentation was heterogeneous including TM, longitudinally extensive TM, ON, and brainstem syndromes. The yearly incidence rate of NMO in the population was estimated to be 0.4 per 10(5) person-years (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.30-0.54) and the prevalence was 4.4 per 10(5) (95% CI 3.1-5.7).
Conclusions: Despite being a rare disease, NMO is more common in a Caucasian population than earlier believed.