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Childhood Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to the most common questions regarding multiple sclerosis in children from our experienced staff at Mass General Brigham's Children Center.

At present, nobody knows exactly why MS occurs. MS is believed to be caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. No specific virus or infection has been shown to cause MS. MS affects people all over the world; however, there are certain populations that seem to be more susceptible to developing MS.

People with MS can experience attacks of weakness in their arms and legs, numbness or tingling, or episodes of dizziness. In addition, blurred vision, loss of vision, or double vision may occur. Additional symptoms include chronic fatigue and bladder urgency. Sometimes cognitive difficulties and depression may be caused by MS. 

Some patients experience progressive or irreversible symptoms. Having these symptoms does not always mean that you have MS. Additional tests including an MRI scan of the brain, blood tests, and sometimes a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) can help to understand the cause of these symptoms.

An abnormal MRI does not always mean that your child has MS. The diagnosis of MS is made by a combination of clinical symptoms, MRI findings, and blood and spinal fluid tests. Sometimes it takes several months of monitoring clinical and MRI findings in order to make a diagnosis of MS.

There are several different forms of MS. Most children with MS experience relapses or attacks which can occur periodically. In the beginning, these symptoms or relapses generally go away by themselves. This type of MS is called “relapsing-remitting MS.” If left untreated, many of these patients will go on to develop secondary progressive MS, in which symptoms do not go away. 

Some patients have a progressive course of MS from the onset. This is called “primary progressive MS.” 

MS is an unpredictable disease, and patients can have a wide variety of symptoms or relapses. MS differs from person to person.

There is no cure for MS at present. Because we do not yet know what causes the disease, it is difficult for scientists to design a cure. Despite this, there are treatments available that lessen the severity of disease and help many patients live full lives.

There are two major categories of medications available for the treatment of relapsing-remitting MS: Beta-interferons and Glatiramer Acetate. These drugs help prevent the long-term effects of MS.  

There are additional drugs which may be used if the initial recommendations do not work or are not tolerated. If your child has an acute attack or relapse, intravenous steroids will help with recovery. Your doctor will help you to choose which drug is best for your child.

Pediatric MS centers are designed to specially care for children and adolescents with MS. 

Doctors that have detailed knowledge of the available treatments will care for your child. In addition, your child will be offered evaluation by a neuropsychologist who can help to assess cognitive function and will interact with your child’s school system to ensure that appropriate educational measures are taken. In addition, a psychologist and social worker will be involved in your child’s care. If your child experiences a relapse, physical therapists will help with your child’s recovery. Additional services and doctors are available as needed.