Multiple sclerosis (MS) occurs at all ages of the pediatric population.
Childhood MS may represent up to 10% of all MS cases. Establishing the diagnosis of MS in a child is complicated by the limited diagnostic criteria and the possibility of significant clinical and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) overlap with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis and other pediatric diseases.
Although the clinical profile of MS appears similar to that seen in adults, several features may differ and specific issues arise in children. Sex ratios are different between young children with MS and adolescents -- implicating a role for sex hormones in disease pathogenesis and/or modification of disease expression. Younger patients with MS are more likely than adults to have seizures, brainstem, and cerebellar symptoms. Children with MS may have fewer T2 hyperintense areas on MRI scans, therefore not meeting MRI criteria established for adults. It is possible that the pediatric MS course is more indolent than in adult patients, but the disease may lead to significant disability at a younger age, e.g., while patients are students, young professionals, or want to start a family.
There has been no controlled clinical trial in children with disease modifying therapies approved for adult MS due to the limited number of patients under the age of 18 years compared with the adult contingent. As a result, children are receiving adult therapies in an arbitrary manner and our understanding of pediatric treatment effect and tolerability is limited. Available data on tolerability of approved drugs for adults is reviewed.