Multiple Sclerosis in Children

Pediatric multiple sclerosis can affect children and teenagers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Multiple sclerosis is generally thought of as an adult's disease. But symptoms can strike as early as childhood, a condition known as pediatric multiple sclerosis.

At least five percent percent of all multiple sclerosis (MS) patients experience symptoms before the age of eighteen. Children with MS should get treatment as soon as possible.

But the disease can often be challenging for doctors to diagnose in kids and teens.

"MS can occur early in life, ask your doctor."

Dr. Silvia Tenembaum of the National Paediatric Hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina, focuses on diagnosing and treating pediatric patients with MS in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of Neurological Sciences.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease affecting the central nervous symptom. Early stages of the disease are characterized by disabling neurological attacks, or relapses, which damage the white matter of the brain.

Most MS patients experience the onset of the disease in young adulthood. But it can come on as the relapse-remitting form of MS in patients as young as eight.

Disability generally worsens as the disease progresses. Dr. Tenembaum reports that pediatric MS tend to experience greater disability at a younger age than most people with MS.

In younger children, the first symptoms of the disease might be mistaken for acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), which also damages the brain's white matter and causes neurological disability.

It can be very challenging for doctors to distinguish the difference between ADEM and MS early on, especially because ADEM is more common in children than adults, and it's rare to see MS in kids.

Fortunately, Dr. Tenembaum reports that new MRI criteria has been developed to differentiate ADEM from MS. In her paper, Dr. Tenembaum warns that an early misdiagnosis may have important repercussions in treating the disease.

Although it's been documented that children respond to certain MS therapies, there's been very little research done to specifically look at how pediatric MS can be safely and effectively treated in children.

Right now, there are no guidelines for treating children with MS.

Dr. Tenembaum advises that long-term studies with follow-up are needed to determine how patients react to their treatment over time, and what the benefits of different treatments might be. She concludes that better treatment, starting earlier, might translate to better long-term outcomes for pediatric patients.

Dr. Tenembaum has connections with Genzyme Corporation and Biogen-Idec, as well as Bayer Schering Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Ind., and Merck Serono.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 2, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2012