Could My Child Have MS?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective coating that surrounds nerve fibers and helps them function. Damage to this protective coating, called myelin, means the nerve fibers are fragile and easily damaged.
MS in children, or pediatric MS, is very rare, affecting an estimated 10,000 children worldwide.
What causes pediatric MS?
The cause of pediatric MS, like that of adult-onset MS, is not well understood. It is likely that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to the development of the disease, but MS is not directly heritable. Children of parents with MS are only slightly more likely to develop MS than children whose parents do not have the disease.
What are the symptoms of pediatric MS?
Children with MS experience the same symptoms as adults, in a relapsing-remitting pattern in which new symptoms occur (relapse), followed by a remission period in which all or most symptoms disappear. Symptoms include fatigue, numbness in extremities, muscle spasms, difficulty walking, dizziness, cognitive problems, and emotional changes.
What tests are used to diagnose pediatric MS?
Diagnosing children with MS is difficult, as the symptoms are very similar to those of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis and other pediatric diseases.
Children with MS also have fewer brain lesions visible than adults on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, making diagnosis harder.
In general, a child must have two discrete demyelinating events in order to be diagnosed with pediatric MS. These include inflammation, vision loss, tremors, and muscle spasms.
What do I do if I think my child has pediatric MS?
Talk to your doctor. He or she may want to perform an MRI scan to look for lesions indicative of MS, or conduct tests that may rule out the presence of other conditions.
Keep a record of your child’s symptoms, when they appeared, a description of what happened from your perspective, and what your child reported to you. Include information about any medications administered to treat the symptoms, and whether they were successful. Keeping good records can help your physician reach an accurate diagnosis more quickly.
Last updated: Jan. 15, 2020
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