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Can children have primary-progressive multiple sclerosis?

Usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, multiple sclerosis (MS) is commonly thought of as a disease that hits people in the prime of life. Sometimes, though, MS strikes much earlier. When diagnosed in people younger than 18, the disease is called pediatric MS. Somewhere between 2 percent to 5 percent of all MS cases fall into the pediatric category, affecting anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 children. Several thousand more children and teens may have symptoms of MS, but no firm diagnosis.

While it's relatively rare, pediatric MS presents unique challenges for children and their families, as well as for medical professionals who might not realize the disease can occur in young people.

Just like adults with multiple sclerosis (MS), children and adolescents are usually offered treatment with one of the disease-modifying therapies. Because current consensus supports initiation of treatment early in the disease course and these therapies can reduce the frequency and severity of relapses, decrease the number of new lesions seen on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and slow disease progression, they are considered for all age groups.

Depending on the age and weight of the child, some neurologists may start treatment at a lower dose and remain at a lower dose for a longer period of time than with adults. Studies indicate that the disease-modifying therapies are safe and well tolerated in children and teens.

Most children with multiple sclerosis (MS) have the relapsing­-remitting form of the disease (RRMS). Other forms of MS include primary-progressive and primary-relapsing MS. Both of these involve disability from the beginning of the disease and are very rare in children.

Anyone diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) can have a form of the disease known as primary-progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). Most commonly, PPMS is found in individuals over the age of 40. However, it can be diagnosed at any age. Today, there are up to 10,000 children in the United States with multiple sclerosis. Of the adults with the disease, it is thought that up to 5 percent of them had symptoms of the disease before they reached 18. Roughly 15 percent of those diagnosed with MS have the form of the disease known as PPMS.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.