National MS Society
Kid's International Support Org
Stony Brook University Hospital

Study: MS cases on the rise among children

By Kathleen Fackelmann, USA TODAY

Experts in the treatment of multiple sclerosis say more children are being diagnosed with MS, an autoimmune disease thought to strike mostly adult women.

Researchers in New York have identified and studied 21 children with MS in one of the first studies to examine how the disease affects younger patients. The picture emerging from this first-of-a-kind study suggests that children as young as 6 can get this disease of the central nervous system.

Lauren Krupp, a neurologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and her colleagues have studied 21 children from all over the USA with MS   kids who probably wouldn't have gotten a diagnosis in the past because doctors can overlook the disease when treating children.

MS often follows an unpredictable course in which symptoms, such as tremors, loss of balance and slurred speech, come and go. But in some cases, people suffer from a more serious form of the disease in which the symptoms steadily get worse. In rare cases, MS can cause death.

Roughly 350,000 Americans have MS, and experts estimate that as many as 20,000 children have the disease but are undiagnosed.

Misdiagnosing children with MS didn't matter much 10 years ago, when there was no treatment for the disease. Today, an early diagnosis matters a great deal: Neurologists have a number of powerful new drugs at their disposal that can slow the potentially disabling disease, Krupp says.

But those drugs have been tested in adults with MS, not in children. So the New York team found itself in uncharted territory when it came to treating the 21 children in the study. They found that drugs used to treat adults usually worked well in kids, at least in this preliminary study.

But they had to employ a variety of drug strategies in four of the children who suffered from a particularly aggressive form of the disease.

Instead of the one or two relapses that adults can have in the first few years after diagnosis, the children got hit with four, five or even seven flare-ups of the disease. In such cases, the team had to try combinations of drugs used to treat MS. The team hopes such drug combinations will delay disease progression in such aggressive cases.

Krupp presented her findings last week at the Americas and European Committees for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis held in Baltimore.