Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that most commonly affects adults, but doctors have been diagnosing more children and adolescents with it recently. Out of the 400,000 people living with MS in the United States, approximately 8000 to 10,000 of these cases include people under the age of eighteen. Neurologists believe that many children are underdiagnosed and that the true number of children with MS may be much higher. MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.
How Multiple Sclerosis Differs In Children
One of the ways in which MS differs in children versus adults is the onset of the disease. Whereas there is no apparent trigger in adult-onset MS, children can experience MS-like symptoms after the development of a nerve disorder called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Caused by an abnormal immune system reaction to an infection, ADEM symptoms include headaches, confusion, stiff neck, fever, seizures, coma, and severe lethargy. In most children who develop ADEM, these symptoms go away. For some children, however, ADEM develops into MS. MS also has a slower rate of progression in children than in adults. In addition, it can greatly affect children's and teens’ cognition and emotions, affecting schoolwork, self-image and relationships with peers.