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How does multiple sclerosis (MS) affect children?

The number of children under age 18 with multiple sclerosis (MS) in the U.S. is estimated to be 8,000 to 10,000. As with adult MS, diagnosis can be difficult. Children don’t always understand that they should talk about what they are experiencing, or they may have difficulty describing the symptoms they feel, which can compound the problem.

Most symptoms of MS seen in children are similar to those seen in adults and can vary from child to child. These can include optic neuritis, motor weakness, balance problems, sensory disturbance, loss of coordination, bladder dysfunction or problems related to brainstem involvement, such as facial numbness.

Yet some differences exist. Children tend to have more brainstem and cerebellar symptoms, encephalopathy (brain disease that can lead to an altered mental state) or optic neuritis than do adults. Additionally, children with MS are more likely than adults to have seizures (5% vs. 2-3%), especially those under the age of 6.

Some studies have reported a higher relapse rate in children than adults, but symptoms appear to remit more quickly than in adults, generally in two to four weeks. 

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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.