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MS (Multiple Sclerosis) in Children

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Although multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs most commonly in adults, it is increasingly being diagnosed in children and teenagers. Of the 400,000 diagnosed cases of MS in the U.S., 8,000 to 10,000 are in children up to 18 years old. Neurologists think there are probably many more children with MS that have not been diagnosed.

How MS Is Different in Children

Multiple sclerosis may manifest itself differently in children and adults. In children, it may begin after a period of neurological symptoms called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). For most children, the symptoms of ADEM -- including headache, delirium, lethargy, coma, seizures, stiff neck, and fever -- are temporary. But other children continue to have symptoms or experience additional symptoms that meet the criteria of MS.

MS is thought to progress more slowly in children than in adults; however, significant disability can occur at an earlier age in people whose MS begins in childhood or adolescence. The cognitive and psychological consequences of MS are likely greater in children and adolescents and may affect academic performance, self-image, and relationships with peers.

MS Symptoms in Children

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

  • Problems with bladder or bowel control
  • Weakness
  • Problems with walking
  • Vision changes
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sensory changes, tingling, or numbness
  • Tremors

In addition, children may experience seizures and lethargy that are not typical in adults.

The symptoms of MS can be erratic. They may be mild or severe. They may last a long time or just a short time.

MS Treatment in Children

Although there is no cure for MS, there are several treatments that can improve life for children with the disease. Treatment of MS in children as well as adults has three main goals: to treat attacks, to prevent future attacks, and to relieve symptoms.

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