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Multiple Sclerosis Health Center

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Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in Children

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Multiple sclerosis happens most often in adults, but doctors are diagnosing more children and teenagers with the condition. Of the 400,000 diagnosed cases of MS in the U.S., 8,000 to 10,000 are in people younger than age 18. Neurologists think there are probably many more kids with MS that haven’t been diagnosed.

How MS Is Different in Children

The first signs of the disease are different for children. It might start after a child has a nerve disorder called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Most of the time, the symptoms of ADEM -- including headache, confusion, coma, seizures, stiff neck, fever, and major lack of energy -- go away after a few weeks. But some children will keep having problems that are the same as MS.

Multiple sclerosis may get worse more slowly in children than in adults. But people who had the condition in childhood or adolescence can have physical disability at an earlier age. The disease also may cause greater challenges with thinking and emotions for children and teens, and may affect their schoolwork, self-image, and relationships with peers.

MS Symptoms in Children

The symptoms are similar to those in adults and may include:

Children also might have seizures and a total lack of energy that adults with the condition usually don’t have.

MS Treatment in Children

There is no cure, but many treatments can make life better for children with the disease. Multiple sclerosis treatment for people of all ages has three main goals: to treat attacks, to prevent future attacks, and to relieve symptoms.

Treatment for MS Attacks in Children

Corticosteroid medications reduce inflammation in the brain and spinal cord during attacks. The main one is methylprednisolone (Solu-medrol), which you get through an IV once a day for 3-5 days. Sometimes doctors prescribe a corticosteroid pill called prednisone for a short time after the IV medication.

Although most children can handle corticosteroids well, for some they cause side effects, including moodiness and behavior changes, increases in blood pressure and blood sugar, and upset stomach. Doctors can treat these problems if they come up.

If corticosteroids alone don’t help enough, your doctor may talk to you about other treatments, including intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and plasma exchange.

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