MS is a chronic, disabling disease of the central nervous system. It causes injury to the sheath called myelin that covers nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
MS is usually diagnosed in adults between the ages of 20 and 50 years old, but it can be found in children.
Nerve Fiber (Neuron)
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A malfunction of the body's immune system seems to be the cause of MS. The immune system attacks and damages the myelin. The exact cause of this malfunction is unknown.
MS is more common in females. Other factors that may increase your child's chance of MS include:
- Being exposed to certain viruses such as herpes virus-6 and Epstein-Barr virus
- Having family members who have MS
- Being of Northern European descent
- Growing up in a colder climate, as opposed to a tropical climate
- Having certain immune system genes
- Having inflammation of the optic nerve
low vitamin D levels
as an adolescent
There are many different types of MS. When it occurs during childhood, the condition usually takes the form of relapsing and remitting. This means that the symptoms suddenly reappear every few months or years, last for a few weeks or months, then go back into remission.
The symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:
- Numbness or tingling in the face or limbs
- Impaired vision in one or both eyes, including blurred vision, double vision, and loss of vision
- Eye pain
- Muscle stiffness, spasms, weakness
- Poor coordination
- Trouble walking or maintaining balance
- Weakness in one or more limbs
- Bladder problems, including urgency, hesitancy, incomplete emptying, and incontinence
Bowel problems, including
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating or solving problems
Factors that may trigger or worsen symptoms include:
- Heat, including hot weather, hot baths or showers, and fever
These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. If your child has any of these, talk to the doctor.
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Lumbar puncture
—to evaluate cerebrospinal fluid that protects the spinal cord and brain
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
Your child's nerve responses may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with an
The goals of MS treatment are to:
- Relieve symptoms
- Prevent relapses
- Delay disability
- Slow disease progression
Work with the doctor to develop a treatment plan for your child. Options include:
Examples of medications used to treat MS in children include:
- Corticosteroids—to reduce inflammation and shorten MS flare-ups
- Interferon beta—used to suppress the immune system
- Intravenous immunoglobulin—a type of antibody
plasma exchange, the proteins causing the damage to the myelin are removed from the blood. During the plasma exchange, fresh plasma is added to the blood.
Depending on the symptoms, the doctor may recommend that your child works with a:
- Physical therapist to help with muscle strength and tone, dexterity, and walking ability—Participating in a regular exercise program may also be helpful.
- Speech/language pathologist
- Occupational therapist to help with daily living tasks
- Psychologist or therapist to help with coping skills
Your child may also need support from teachers and staff at school.
Some people with MS have found alternative treatments, such as
helpful. If you are interested in these types of treatments for your child, talk to the doctor.
There are no guidelines for preventing MS. There may be some steps that you can take to prevent your child from having flare-ups, for example:
- Give your child medications as prescribed.
- Have your child avoid hot weather and hot baths and showers.
- Be sure that your child gets adequate rest.
- Encourage your child to exercise regularly.
- Have your child learn stress reduction techniques.
Try to have your child avoid infection. You can do this by:
Multiple sclerosis. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at:
http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Multiple%20Sclerosis.aspx. Updated November 2005. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Multiple sclerosis. Children’s Hospital Boston website. Available at:
http://www.childrenshospital.org/health-topics/conditions/multiple-sclerosis-ms. Updated 2012. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Multiple sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 7, 2014. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Multiple sclerosis. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital website. Available at:
http://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/conditions/multiple_sclerosis/index.html. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Munger KL, et al. Body size and risk of MS in two cohorts of US women. Neurology. 2009;73(19):1543-1550.
Pediatric MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at:
http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Who-Gets-MS/Pediatric-MS. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Treating MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at:
http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Treating-MS. Accessed August 20, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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