No one wants to see their child struggle with a debilitating disease, like multiple sclerosis. But up to 10% of MS patients will show their first symptoms before the age of 18. With pediatric MS, getting the right diagnosis, and treatment, early can improve long-term outcomes.
Treatment for Pediatric MS
UVA Health Children’s has the only Pediatric MS clinic in Virginia. Our clinic has a trained pediatric neuroimmunologist with expertise in MS and related disorders. Your care team will also include dedicated nursing support, an MS pharmacist, and pharmacy technician. These experts can help create a treatment plan that works for your family.
The first part of any treatment plan is getting the right diagnosis.
Diagnosing MS in Children
Brain disorders caused by inflammation or immune response (neuroimmunologic) are difficult to diagnosis. Many disorders mimic each other, causing similar signs and symptoms.
The wrong diagnosis can delay treatment.
As the first step in diagnosing your child, your doctor will collect a full medical history.
Be prepared to talk about:
- When symptoms started and how they progressed
- Past symptoms, which may have been overlooked
- Infection symptoms, since some infections mimic MS
Based on your child’s history, your doctor may order additional tests. Tests can include:
- Detailed neurological exam
- Blood tests
- Spinal fluid analysis (lumbar puncture)
These tests will help to rule out other potential diagnoses, and make sure that your child is getting the right treatment.
Medical Options for Pediatric MS
Only one drug, fingolimod, is currently FDA approved to treat MS in children. But your doctor may recommend other treatments on a case-by-case basis.
Pediatric MS clinical trials allow us to study the safety and efficacy of medications used to treat adult MS. UVA Health Children’s participates in pediatric MS clinical trials. This offers families access to cutting edge treatments and a chance to explore the right treatment options.
Complete Supportive Care for MS
One of the advantages UVA Health has in treating pediatric MS is the availability of other specialists.
Common MS care components include:
We also work to provide mental health counseling and peer-to-peer support. Our clinic offers parents and children with MS the chance to speak to other families with this diagnosis.
When the time comes, we’ll work to make your child’s move into adult MS care seamless.
Nationally Ranked Children's Neurology
UVA Health Children's neurology care has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as among the best in the country. Our children's neurology experts are ready to offer your child world-class treatment, with expertise in even the most complex cases. At UVA Health Children’s, keeping your kids healthy is our mission.
MS is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. In patients with MS, the immune system attacks the protective layer of myelin that covers nerve fibers. Eventually, the disorder can cause nerve fiber damage. This damage creates communication problems between your brain and your body.
How Is MS Different in Kids?
Almost always, the form of MS seen in children is relapsing-remitting (RRMS). That means that attacks occur, then the MS goes into remission. During this “remission” stage, no new symptoms will appear. Unfortunately, the relapsing part means that there will be future attacks as well.
In pediatric multiple sclerosis, it’s critically important to prevent new attacks. Because the brain is still developing and growing, MS can cause atrophy over time. This can be seen on MRI. As a result, symptoms over time could include issues with attention, cognitive processing and memory.
Symptoms of Pediatric MS
Most of the symptoms of pediatric multiple sclerosis are similar to those of adult MS. What’s different is that the attacks are more frequent, but children tend to recover better from relapses than adults do. Symptoms of MS tend to come on gradually (over days) and persist for more than 24 hours, often lasting weeks to months.
- Numbness or tingling
- Loss of balance or dizziness
- Changes in vision (loss of vision, double vision)
- Changes in bladder and bowel function
There are also some cognitive and behavioral symptoms associated with MS. Roughly one-third of MS patients will develop one or more of these.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Troubles with processing speed
- Memory problems
These issues may affect school performance. Your doctor can work together with the school to create a 504 or IEP to accommodate these problems.
How Early Can MS be Diagnosed?
Pediatric MS has onset at an average age of 13-14 years. Less than 10% of all pediatric patients will have onset at 10 years or younger.
What Are Risk Factors for Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis?
While genetics play a small role, most of the risk factors come from environmental causes.
Known risk factors for pediatric MS include:
- Cigarette smoking, or living with a smoker (second-hand smoke)
- Vitamin D deficiency
- History of previous Mononucleosis or Epstein-Barr infection