Health Library

Return to Index
by Alan R

Multiple Sclerosis—Child



MS is a chronic, disabling disease of the central nervous system. It causes injury to the sheath called myelin that covers nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves.
Nerve Fiber (Neuron)
Myelin Sheath Damage
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A malfunction of the body's immune system seems to be the cause of MS. The immune system attacks and damages the myelin. The exact cause of this malfunction is unknown.

Risk Factors

MS is more common in females. Other factors that may increase your child's chance of MS include:
  • Being exposed to certain viruses such as herpes virus-6 and Epstein-Barr virus
  • Having family members who have MS
  • Being of Northern European descent
  • Growing up in a colder climate, as opposed to a tropical climate
  • Having certain immune system genes
  • Having inflammation of the optic nerve
  • Having low vitamin D levels
  • Being obese as an adolescent


There are many different types of MS. When it occurs during childhood, the condition usually takes the form of relapsing and remitting. This means that the symptoms suddenly reappear every few months or years, last for a few weeks or months, then go back into remission.
The symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:
  • Numbness or tingling in the face or limbs
  • Impaired vision in one or both eyes, including blurred vision, double vision, and loss of vision
  • Eye pain
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle stiffness, spasms, weakness
  • Poor coordination
  • Trouble walking or maintaining balance
  • Weakness in one or more limbs
  • Bladder problems, including urgency, hesitancy, incomplete emptying, and incontinence
  • Bowel problems, including constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating or solving problems
  • Seizures
Factors that may trigger or worsen symptoms include:
  • Heat, including hot weather, hot baths or showers, and fever
  • Overexertion
  • Infection


MS is usually diagnosed in adults between the ages of 20 and 50 years old, but it can be found in children.
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
  • Lumbar puncture —to evaluate cerebrospinal fluid that protects the spinal cord and brain
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
Your child's nerve responses may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with an MRI scan .


The goals of MS treatment are to:
  • Relieve symptoms
  • Prevent relapses
  • Delay disability
  • Slow disease progression
Work with the doctor to develop a treatment plan for the child. Options include:


Examples of medications used to treat MS in children include:
  • Corticosteroids—to reduce inflammation and shorten MS flare-ups
  • Interferon beta—used to suppress the immune system
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin—a type of antibody

Plasma Exchange

With plasma exchange , the proteins causing the damage to the myelin are removed from the blood. During the plasma exchange, fresh plasma is added to the blood.

Other Treatments

Depending on the symptoms, the doctor may recommend that the child works with a:
  • Physical therapist to help with muscle strength and tone, dexterity, and walking ability—Participating in a regular exercise program may also be helpful.
  • Speech/language pathologist
  • Occupational therapist to help with daily living tasks
  • Psychologist or therapist to help with coping skills
The child may also need support from teachers and staff at school.

Alternative Treatments

Some people with MS have found alternative treatments, such as massage , acupuncture , and magnet therapy helpful. If you are interested in these types of treatments, talk to the doctor.


There are no guidelines for preventing MS. There may be some steps that you can take to prevent your child from having flare-ups, for example:
  • Give your child medications as prescribed.
  • Have your child avoid hot weather and hot baths and showers.
  • Be sure that your child gets adequate rest.
  • Encourage your child to exercise regularly.
  • Have your child learn stress reduction techniques.
  • Try to have your child avoid infection. You can do this by:


Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
National Multiple Sclerosis Society


Health Canada
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada


Multiple sclerosis. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: Accessed September 25, 2017.
Multiple sclerosis. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: Accessed September 25, 2017.
Multiple sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated June 21, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Multiple sclerosis. UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital website. Available at: Accessed September 25, 2017.
Munger KL, et al. Body size and risk of MS in two cohorts of US women. Neurology. 2009;73(19):1543-1550.
Pediatric MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: Accessed September 25, 2017.
Treating MS. National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: Accessed September 25, 2017.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2018
  • Update Date: 09/30/2013
Mercyhealth MyChart Sign In