Multiple Sclerosis in Children

Childhood Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis has long been regarded as a young person's disease with the majority of people being diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

However, younger sufferers are now coming to light, and 5% of the total number of MS cases involve children under 16.

Childhood Multiple Sclerosis could have been just as prevalent 20 years ago, but with the advent of new technology, such as magnetic resonance imaging, the number of children being diagnosed is on the increase.

But so little is known about childhood MS that even now there is a delay in diagnosing it and the majority of children presenting symptoms at a young age are not normally diagnosed until early adulthood.

Early diagnosis is far more important than it was 20 year ago because there are now disease modifying drugs that can slow down the progression of the illness. The majority of drugs used to treat MS in adults are also used to treat children although more research needs to be done into the safety and effectiveness of their use in the treatment of youngsters.

Children Living With MS

Studies show that the illness appears to be more prevalent in males up to the age of 12 but after puberty it mirrors the gender imbalance in adults, with more girls being diagnosed. This adds strength to the possibility that there maybe a hormone link to MS.

Problems with vision, co-ordination and balance seem to be the predominant symptoms with children and the vast majority of youngsters are diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS meaning they have attacks followed by periods of feeling totally well.

Just like adults, children with Multiple Sclerosis can lead completely normal lives. Because they contract the disease at a young age doesn't necessarily mean they will end up with any symptoms sooner. In fact studies show that the disease could be less aggressive in children.

They can go to school, go on to full time employment and have children of their own. Psychologically though it can be tough, particularly if youngsters are diagnosed in their teens at a time when life is confusing enough already.

Some of the easiest tasks can be more difficult during relapses. Sports, going to the cinema with friends, making new friends or even going on a date can all become major challenges.

If you're a child newly diagnosed with MS you probably haven't got a clue how to tell your friends about it? How will they react and how will you deal with the reaction? There is no right or wrong way to handle the situation.

Abby was diagnosed at 14. "I had just started going out with my boyfriend and I didn't know how he was going to react. I felt so embarrassed by it all. I don't think he really understood and it was never mentioned again. Needless to say­ the relationship fizzled out!"

Other youngsters get through by chatting to others in similar circumstances - in local support groups or online in MS forums and chat rooms. Some bottle it up and end up being disruptive at school and home because they feel different. In these cases counseling can help.

As a parent, how much do you tell your child about their illness? Kids can be hyper sensitive and even the youngest can pick up on moods so it's important not to let them think that this is some awful family secret. Most therapists recommend that you tell the truth, taking into account what you think your child is capable of understanding.

Older children will find out everything they need to know ­and more, usually from the internet, so honesty is always the best policy.

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