Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder that causes brain, optic nerve and spinal cord damage and results in a disruption of the flow of information from the brain to the rest of the body.

What is Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis?

This disabling disease occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and optic nerves). The attacks cause inflammation (swelling) and serious damage to the myelin around the nerves (demyelination). Myelin acts as insulation (like a plastic covering on electrical wires), allowing the body’s electrical impulses that control normal functions to activate. When the myelin is damaged, it can slow down the body’s internal communication that manages movements and reactions.

If the attacks occur multiple times, the damaged areas of the central nervous system and brain can develop scar tissue throughout the body, or multiple sclerosis (scarring), giving the disease its name. Typically, MS is diagnosed during adulthood (after the age of 18), but there are rare cases of pediatric MS.

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis?

Symptoms of MS can range in frequency and severity. Initial symptoms can also lead to other physical or cognitive issues. MS symptoms include:

Commonly occurring symptoms

  • Pain in the eye
  • Balance issues
  • Bladder and bowel problems that may cause a urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Cognitive changes (issues with problem-solving, remembering/learning new information and focusing)
  • Dizziness and vertigo (room spinning)
  • Emotional/behavioral difficulties (mood swings, depression and irritability)
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling (arms, body, face and legs)
  • Pain (eyes, muscles or anywhere in the central nervous system)
  • Sexual issues
  • Spasticity (involuntary, continually tense muscles)
  • Vision problems (blurry or loss of color)
  • Walking difficulties

Infrequently occurring symptoms

  • Breathing difficulties (due to weakened chest muscles)
  • Headaches
  • Hearing loss
  • Itching or “pins and needles” feeling
  • Seizures
  • Speech issues (slurring or inability to speak loudly)
  • Swallowing issues
  • Tremors (involuntary shaking)

What are the causes of Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis?

The exact cause of MS is unknown, but scientists believe there may be a combination of factors that trigger the autoimmune response that causes damage. Studies have identified some risk factors that may contribute.

Risk Factors

  • Environmental – Some environmental factors have been shown to increase the risk of developing MS. These include:
    • Low vitamin D –  comes from egg yolks, fatty fish and sun exposure.
    • Smoking – impacts severity of disease and progression of symptoms.
    • Weight – obesity in childhood and adolescence increases the risk of developing MS, especially for young girls.
  • Genetics – If someone in a family has MS, it is not guaranteed that family members will inherit it, but there is an increased risk of developing it. The typical risk of being diagnosed with MS is 1 in 750 to 1,000. If an identical twin develops it, the other’s risk will be approximately 1 in 4. The risk also increases if a parent, sibling or child has MS (first-degree relative).
  • Immune Response – An abnormal immune system response triggers the attack on the myelin and causes inflammation. The exact immune cells causing MS haven’t been identified yet, but researchers have noticed some overlapping characteristics with other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Infection  – Viruses and bacterial infections have been associated with the development of MS, including measles, Epstein-Barr (mono), canine distemper (humans infected by animals) and chlamydia pneumonia.

Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Doctors and Providers