Multiple sclerosis in children is rare, but not unheard of. An accurate diagnosis can be made difficult due to differences in common first symptoms when compared to typical adult onset cases of MS. Before puberty an even number of males and females developed MS (ratio 1:1). In adults, MS affects more women than men at a ratio of about 3:1.
In two different studies examining MS in children, researchers identified the types of symptoms which were more common as first major attacks in children in different age groups and the association between menarche (first menstrual cycle in puberty) with disease course in female pediatric patients.
MS onset during childhood
To help facilitate early diagnosis in pediatric MS, a team of German researchers at the Center for Multiple Sclerosis in Childhood and Adolescence at the University Medical Center in Göttingen set out to identify a “typical” pattern of symptoms in patients developing MS before puberty.
The patients who developed MS before puberty were more likely to have a severe, polysymptomatic (more than one symptom) first attack with motor and brainstem involvement, sphincter dysfunction, cognitive disturbances, and milder residual neurological symptoms after the first episode. Patients with pre-pubertal MS maintained these types of symptoms over the first two years post-diagnosis and presentation did not differ significantly in boys and girls before puberty.1