MS in teenagers is rarer than MS in adults. Patients below 18 years account for 5% of MS cases, but note that these include cases of multiple sclerosis in teenagers and in younger children. It is worthwhile asking to what degree the low prevalence of MS in children and adolescents can be explained by under-diagnosis of the condition in this age group. Because it is typical to think of MS as an adults’ disease, and because information about MS in under-eighteens has traditionally been underemphasized, it is possible that a significant number of children and teenagers with MS have been misdiagnosed.
Disseminating Information about MS in Teenagers
The best way to combat the likelihood of misdiagnosis or under-diagnosis is to spread awareness among medical professionals and members of the general public about MS in teenagers and in children. An aware medical professional is more likely than an oblivious one to consider MS as a possible diagnosis in teens and young children. Additionally, an aware parent is more likely than one who is ignorant about multiple sclerosis in teenagers to ask questions about MS or to seek a consult with a pediatric neurologist.
Fortunately, the dissemination of information to the public about MS in children and teenagers is now underway. Many websites have information about MS in these age-groups. There has also been MS research done on these age groups. Additionally, some websites list resources that specifically address the needs of children and teens with MS and their families.
Some of the sites that present information about MS to members of these age groups and their families catalogue the symptoms of the condition. These may include incontinence and problems with bowel control, balance problems, lack of coordination, weakness and fatigue, numbness and tingling in the extremities, cognitive impairment, slurred speech, spasticity and stiff muscles, and vision problems. These all happen to be common MS symptoms in adult patients too.
As in adults, it is impossible to predict with accuracy which symptoms will present in a given patient and how the disease will progress over time. Some patients have few apparent symptoms despite extensive lesions in their nervous tissue. Yet other patients have very few lesions, but because of their location, they have a very debilitating effect on their conditions. Fortunately for teenagers and younger children, their bodies are at their peak as far as rejuvenation, growth and development are concerned. Thus, much damage to the nervous tissue is bound to be repaired pretty quickly. This probably accounts for the fact that people who develop MS at a younger age progress to disability less slowly than those who first develop MS when past their peak.