Multiple Sclerosis (MS) | Symptoms and Causes

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Contact the Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Related Disorder Program

What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

Each person’s symptoms vary depending on the location of central nervous system inflammation. Common symptoms of MS in children can include:

  • weakness
  • exhaustion
  • blurry vision or other changes in vision
  • numbness
  • tingling or other change in sensation
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • changes in bladder or bowel function
  • dizziness

Cognitive and emotional symptoms?

About 50 percent of people with MS have some cognitive symptoms. These can include:

  • difficulty with concentration
  • trouble learning and remembering information
  • poor judgment
  • short attention span

If these symptoms affect your child’s school performance, it’s important to work with your child's school and medical team to help address any problems.

Children with MS may also have emotional symptoms in reaction to the stress of living with a chronic, unpredictable illness. Every child has a different way of expressing these emotions, but common signs include:

  • sudden increase or decrease in appetite
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • low energy
  • irritability
  • feelings of sadness
  • loss of interest in activities

If you notice these signs in your child, let your pediatrician or neurologist know right away.

What are the causes of multiple sclerosis?

The exact cause of MS is still a mystery. But we do know that autoimmune diseases are not contagious, and they don’t appear to be caused by any one thing in particular. Instead, there’s a multi-step process at work:

  • Heredity: Children inherit certain genes from their parents that make them more susceptible to a particular disease.
  • Environmental factors: The disease doesn’t reveal itself until it’s “triggered” by something — such as an infection or exposure to certain toxins or drugs. The particular trigger in a patient is not always identified.

Researchers are working to discover which genes are involved and how they interact. They are also looking at a number of potential environmental and hormonal triggers in hopes of one day finding a cure.

Who’s at risk for multiple sclerosis?

Although researchers don’t fully understand what causes certain people to develop MS, certain environmental and genetic factors can increase the risk.

MS is most common in:

  • females (after puberty)
  • caucasians
  • those with a parent or sibling who has MS or other autoimmune conditions
  • people who live in temperate climates, such as the United States, Europe, New Zealand and Australia (This may in part relate to less sun exposure and low vitamin-D levels.)

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For Patients: 617-355-6000
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