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How is multiple sclerosis (MS) in children different from MS in adults?

It has taken researchers decades to understand how multiple sclerosis (MS) affects adults, but they have spent much less time looking at the disease in children. While studies of MS in children have historically been small, below are a few key ways the disease appears to differ in children:
  • Although more women than men have MS in adulthood, under the age of 10, boys are just as likely to get MS as girls. That appears to change during in the teen years, when girls are more commonly diagnosed than boys, leading researchers to wonder about the role hormones play in the disease.
  • Studies have shown that MS is more commonly diagnosed in black and Hispanic children than would be expected. For example, while MS is most common in white adults, in a given time period over half of the children referred to one hospital with a confirmed diagnosis of MS were black or Hispanic.
  • Children may experience the vision problem, optic neuritis, more often and in both eyes (rather than in one eye, which is more typical for adults with MS). Symptoms, such as spasticity and bladder and sexual dysfunction, are fairly common in adults with MS, but rare in young people.
  • About 5% of children with MS will have seizures. Children under age six may be more likely to have them, as well as mental changes. Unlike adults, children with MS sometimes have a fever during relapses.
  • Children can go long periods between their first and second attacks of MS (studies show an average of six years), while teens with MS often relapse within the year.

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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.