Multiple Sclerosis

What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease, a disorder in which the body's immune system reacts against itself and attacks its own healthy cells and tissue. In MS, the immune system reacts against the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

The main target of the attack is myelin, the protective coating around nerve cells. Myelin is similar to insulation around an electrical wire. It helps nerve cells to send information from one place to another in the CNS.

Attacks on myelin create areas of inflammation, also called lesions, throughout the CNS. The lesions can slow or interrupt the flow of information along nerve cells, resulting in the symptoms of MS.

There are several different types of multiple sclerosis (MS):

  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS): Most children with MS are diagnosed with this type. It’s also the most common form of MS. People with RRMS will have attacks (relapses) of symptoms that go away (remit) and come back later. During the time in between attacks, there are no new symptoms or worsening of the disease.
  • Primary progressive MS (PPMS): People with this type of MS have chronic symptoms that steadily get worse over time.
  • Secondary progressive MS (SPMS): With this type of MS, symptoms steadily get worse. Most people who have RRMS eventually develop SPMS.

Once considered a strictly “adult” condition, MS is now being diagnosed earlier, and it’s estimated that somewhere between 3 to 10 percent of patients with MS start developing symptoms before they’re 18.

There’s not yet a cure for MS. Treatment options for MS focus on controlling the immune system and helping people manage symptoms.

How we care for multiple sclerosis

At Boston Children’s Hospital, our Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders Program provides expert care for your whole child. Our program is led by Mark Gorman, MD, one of the few physicians in the country to complete formal fellowship training in both pediatric neurology and multiple sclerosis. Our program brings together a team from multiple specialties to provide expert medical care and comprehensive support for your child and family.

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