What is pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a central nervous system disorder. This means it affects the brain and spinal cord. It is an autoimmune disease as it is inflammatory—meaning that white blood cells, which protect against infection, enter the nervous system and cause damage. The harm is done because the myelin sheath, the protective coating for nerves, is stripped off by the antibodies produced by the immune system. (This is called demyelination.) MS is a long-term disease that can happen to anyone.

Pediatric MS is multiple sclerosis that begins in children or teens. About 98% have relapsing-remitting MS, versus 84% of adults with MS. This means that symptoms come and go (relapse and remit). When symptoms are gone, the disease is still able to progress. This condition may also be called pediatric-onset multiple sclerosis (POMS), early-onset MS, or juvenile MS. Relapses seem to happen more often in children and teens. This group appears to recover from the neurologic disability more quickly but are at increased risk of cognitive difficulties that can affect school work.

Who is affected by pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS)?

There are about 730,000 people in the U.S. with multiple sclerosis. Onset during childhood accounts for about 5% of the total.

Before puberty, the ratio of females to males who develop pediatric MS is about equal. After puberty, the ratio is about 2-3 to 1. This might indicate that sex hormones have a role in developing the condition.

What causes pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS)?

In short, we do not know what causes multiple sclerosis. However, research does point to an increase in risk due to the following:

  • Being exposed to toxins, like secondhand smoke and pesticides.
  • Having low levels of vitamin D in your blood.
  • Being overweight.
  • Genetic issues, especially in terms of the immune system.
  • Being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (having mononucleosis).

Is pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS) contagious?

No. Your child cannot give MS to someone else and cannot catch it from someone who has it.

What are the signs and symptoms of pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS)?

The symptoms of MS vary from person to person and may even be different from one day to the next. This is true for children and adults. The symptoms may be physically sensory (involving changes in feeling) or motor (changes in movement) or may involve other factors, such as vision, emotions, thinking, or walking. Most people have only a few of these common symptoms, not all of them.

Common symptoms include:

  • Numbness, tingling, the “pins and needles” feeling, or pain.
  • Dizziness, difficulty walking or keeping your balance.
  • Fatigue, weakness, tremor (shaking).
  • Problems with concentration or memory, depression.
  • Problems with vision, including blurry vision, trouble seeing, or double vision.
  • Sensitivity to heat.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/13/2020.


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