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Understanding Multiple Sclerosis in Children and Teens

May 30, 2017

Approximately 400,000 individuals in the U.S. have multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurological disease that affects the central nervous system. The body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and in the process destroys myelin, the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. The majority of people develop MS between the ages of 15 and 50, but it can occasionally strike younger children. Although pediatric MS is relatively rare, it is estimated that 3% of the MS population develop symptoms before age 18. For treatment, a comprehensive pediatric MS center can evaluate and treat a child with MS. There is no cure for this illness, but there are disease-modifying therapies. Treatment occurs on many levels including medication, cognitive, educational and psychological evaluations, and family support. The early signs of MS include: loss of vision in one or both eyes, numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, double vision or blurring of vision, tingling or numbness electric-like sensations, tremor or lack of coordination or a sensation of spinning, and problems walking due to weakness or poor balance.

Stony Brook University Hospital, one facility out of many that contains a MS center, explains their treatment process for pediatric MS. Their program begins with a comprehensive multidisciplinary evaluation conducted over one or two days. The evaluation includes:

  • A neurological assessment by a pediatric neurologist and MS specialist
  • Review of medical records
  • A neuropsychological evaluation and psychological assessment to evaluate the impact of MS on cognition, academic performance and emotional functioning
  • An MRI may possibly be performed and evaluated with our neuro-radiologist to assess the disease
  • Ophthalmology exam
  • Individual psychological support for patients and their family members
  • Neuropsychological evaluation
  • Assistance, if needed, with school issues
  • Nursing support

Once the diagnosis is made, the team develops a treatment plan, which is shared with the family, the child’s primary care physician and the local neurologist. The center also works closely with the child’s primary care physician and local neurologist, and serves as consultants in the ongoing care of the patient. They offer many services, such as infusion medications, physical and occupational therapy, counseling, and education materials regarding MS and its treatment. The team understands that children with MS and their families can feel isolated. They work to alleviate these feelings of isolation by providing a support network. For more information about Stony Brook’s National Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center, you can call (631) 444-7802 or check out their website at neuro.stonybrookmedicine.edu.