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Difference Between ADEM and MS


Disease diagnosis has come a long way, thanks largely to vast improvements in medical technology. However, there are certain types of illnesses that exhibit the same symptoms and affect the same areas, but upon closer examination it is revealed that they are significantly different from each other. This is the main reason why doctors need to be certain about a patient’s condition before trying to give medication. Giving the wrong kind of treatment is very dangerous and can even further aggravate a disease.

One particular disease that baffles many medical experts is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis or ADEM and its uncanny similarities to multiple sclerosis or MS. There are different opinions about how to treat these two conditions that affect the central nervous system. There are doctors who believe ADEM should be classified as another form of multiple sclerosis due to similarities in symptoms and prognosis, while there are groups that believe it’s an entirely different disease that needs to be studied separately.

According to experts, both diseases attack the central nervous system and so far it’s the only established common ground. One thing to note about conditions that affect the CNS is that they can all exhibit the same types of symptoms, which mean both ADEM and MS share it with other neurological diseases as well. And to really set apart these two, careful analysis needs to be done in the way they attack the central nervous system.

ADEM is considered a disease caused by immune responses of the brain after a severe viral, bacterial or parasitic infection. It can also occur after vaccination which why most ADEM patients are children. Multiple Sclerosis or MS on the other hand is an inflammatory disease that affects the myelin sheath of the brain’s axons causing damage to both the brain and spinal cord. Its specific cause is still undetermined but experts believe it is genetic.

ADEM and MS also differ from each other in the way they are treated. When ADEM attacks, intravenous steroids are used to ease symptoms. For multiple sclerosis it is a continuous process of treatment and medication to slow down the disease and its symptoms. There is still no known cure for MS while ADEM is treatable using aggressive medications.

ADEM and MS also differ in severity of attacks. Both diseases are tough to diagnose early and so when the first signs show up patients are already in advanced stages. ADEM can be severe and sudden. Once acute symptoms occur, treatment is needed until it subsides. For MS, attacks happen gradually when there are no measures taken to control the disease, like taking medication and therapy. Many patients who have MS can live a normal life as long as they take care of the disease properly.

Pathological studies also show a difference in plaque build-up in the white matter of the brain caused by damage from both diseases. For ADEM, the inflammation shown is widely disseminated, while for MS it’s more delineated. Diagnostic tools like an MRI and spinal fluid tests are used to identify both conditions which is why many experts have a tough time determining which is which.


1. ADEM is a disease caused by an immune response to infection, while MS is believed to be genetic in nature.
2. ADEM can be treated once symptoms occur, while MS can only be controlled through regular medication and therapy.
3. ADEM can show acute symptoms suddenly, while MS displays signs gradually until medical intervention.
4. Pathological examinations reveal differences in the white matter after onset of both diseases. ADEM shows dissemination, while MS shows a delineated white matter.

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