Although multiple sclerosis occurs most commonly in adults, it is also diagnosed in children and adolescents. Estimates suggest that 8,000-10,000 children (defined as up to 18 years old) in the United States have multiple sclerosis, and another 10,000-15,000 have experienced at least one symptom suggestive of MS.
- Studies suggest 2 to 5% of all people with MS have a history of symptom onset before age 18.
- Diagnosis in children is more challenging than in adults due to the frequency of other childhood disorders with similar symptoms and characteristics.
- Increasing evidence suggests that the disease-modifying therapies (FDA approved for use in adults) are safe and well tolerated in children; however large clinical trials are needed to assess treatment efficacy.
- Most symptoms of MS seen in children are similar to those seen in adults. There are, however, symptoms experienced by children that are not typical in adults, such as seizures and mental status changes (lethargy).
- Increasing evidence suggests a slower disease course in children with MS, but significant disability can accumulate at an earlier age compared to individuals with adult onset MS.
- Psychosocial consequences of MS in children and adolescents may affect academic performance, family relations, and specific adolescent issues including self-image and relationships with peers. An evaluation by a trained professional can help determine appropriate interventions.
- Pediatricians may not be familiar with MS because they are not expecting to see it in children.
Because of the critical need to better understand pediatric MS, the National MS Society established the first-of-its-kind network of Pediatric MS Centers of Excellence. Each of the six centers offers comprehensive services through multidisciplinary teams including pediatric and adult MS experts. Financial assistance is available for travel, accommodations and care so families can access these services, regardless of their ability to pay or proximity to one of the centers.