Studies suggest that five to ten percent of all people with multiple sclerosis have experienced their first symptoms before the age of 16. If you notice early signs of multiple sclerosis in your child, you can have an early start in managing the condition and reduce the discomfort for your child later on in life.
Multiple sclerosis is a debilitating disease that affects the signal that sends messages between the brain and the muscles in the limbs. Usually, the immune system attacks the protective tissues around the nerve (myelin sheath) and damages this signal. It can cause extreme pain and impair muscle movement in your child.
What are the signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis in children?
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis in children are different from those in adults. You might notice signs such as:
- Problems with bladder or bowel control;
- Slurred speech;
- Fatigue or dizziness;
- Weakness or numbness that happens to one side of the body or one limb at a time;
- Problems with walking, lack of coordination;
- Vision loss that occurs to one eye and pain when your child moves their eyes;
- Muscle spasms, tremors;
- Sensory changes, tingling, or electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign);
In children, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis can worsen more slowly than in adults. But it can cause more of a disability to your child. Children who are more aware of their life, teenagers for example, might have difficulty fitting in or keeping up with their schoolwork and might develop self-image problems. Some children might experience depression from multiple sclerosis.
What increase my child’s risk of multiple sclerosis?
There have been several factors that affect the risk of multiple sclerosis in adults. Infections or autoimmune diseases might trigger the condition. In children, there have been some researches on the connection between infection and multiple sclerosis. The results show that children are less exposed to those viruses than in adults. Some who have an infection are often associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).
Certain nerve disorders might also increase your child’s risk for multiple sclerosis. Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) has symptoms of multiple sclerosis: a headache, confusion, coma, seizures, stiff neck, fever, and a major lack of energy. In some cases these symptoms go away after a few weeks, but they might relapse as well.
What are the diagnosis and treatments of multiple sclerosis in children?
Diagnosing multiple sclerosis in children is more challenging than in adults because pediatricians the symptoms are sometimes hard to identify. There are many childhood disorders that are characterized by the same signs and symptoms.
However, once diagnosed with the condition, children often have relapse more often than adults. There is no cure yet for multiple sclerosis. That’s why treatment for children with multiple sclerosis has three main goals: to treat attacks, to prevent future attacks, and to relieve symptoms.
The treatment for multiple sclerosis attacks is based on the treatment for adults. That includes using corticosteroid medications to reduce the swelling and inflammation in the brain. If corticosteroids alone don’t help enough, your doctor may talk to you about other treatments, including intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and plasma exchange.
Although most children can handle corticosteroids, some still have side effects when using these drugs, including moodiness and behavior changes, an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar, and upset stomach. Pediatricians will treat any problem that comes up during the course of treatment.
How can I prevent multiple sclerosis attacks and relieve the symptoms for my child?
Your child’s doctor might prescribe medications to prevent attacks and manage the progression of the condition. Medications for children with this condition may include:
- Interferon beta-1a (Avonex®, Rebif®);
- Interferon beta-1b (Betaseron®);
- Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone®).
These medications will be injected into your child’s muscle or beneath the skin. There has been a little study on the side effect of these drugs, but small studies have shown positive effects. Your child might experience some side effects that can be managed by medication. These side effects include fever, chills, muscle aches, and headaches. You can discuss with your child’s doctor ways to reduce these effects as much as possible by giving smaller doses, other treatment options or giving you child medication to control side effects.
Other symptoms caused by this condition, such as depression, fatigue, or bowel and bladder problems can be treated with other medicines. You can discuss with your doctor about the prescription to have the best treatment for your child.
If having a multiple sclerosis is difficult for adults, children may have a harder time living with multiple sclerosis. You should learn about this condition and discuss with your child’s doctor or medical team on how to support your child.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2091406-overview. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in Children. http://www.webmd.com/multiple-sclerosis/guide/ms-in-children?page=1. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Pediatric MS. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/What-is-MS/Who-Gets-MS/Pediatric-MS. Accessed September 6, 2016.