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Hope and Health

Your source to help with your family's health from WVU Medicine Children's

Hope & Health
Articles and Updates from WVU Medicine Children's

03/4/2024 | Melanie Ward, MD

Can Kids Get Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

The quick answer is, yes, but let’s take a step back and start with the basics first.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease. The immune system is supposed to fight off infections. However, sometimes, the immune system gets confused and attacks the wrong things. In MS, the immune system attacks places like the brain, spinal cord, and the nerve that connects the eye and the brain (the optic nerve), causing inflammation and damage to the nerves.

Aside from traumatic injuries, MS is the most common disease that causes disability in young adults. About one million people in the United States have MS, and most are diagnosed in their 20s to 40s. However, MS can occur in any age, and about 5,000-10,000 of people living with MS in the U.S. are children.

What Symptoms Does MS Cause?

Nerve damage in MS can cause many different symptoms, including numbness, weakness, vision changes, and balance and walking problems. Sometimes people with MS can also have symptoms like memory changes, pain, mood problems, and fatigue.

How is MS in Children Diagnosed?

When a child has symptoms like numbness in their arms or legs, trouble with balance, weakness, thinking or memory problems, or vision problems, it is important for them to be seen by a doctor. Often, this will be the person’s pediatrician first who can then refer to a neurologist.

Listening to a person and examining them are the most important ways we help figure out what may be going on. Most of the time, we will also get other tests like blood tests, MRI scans of the brain and/or spinal cord, and sometimes get a sample of spinal fluid to look for signs of inflammation (this is called a spinal tap).

In MS, we will see abnormalities on an MRI scan and a normal MRI makes MS very unlikely. There are many other diseases that can cause symptoms like MS, some of which are more common than MS in children, so it is important to make sure we aren’t missing other problems.

How is Children’s MS Treated?

Early diagnosis and treatment are keys to helping people with MS do as well as possible in the long term.

Once a child has been diagnosed with MS, the next step is to decide which long-term treatment option is best. There is not a cure for MS (yet!), so most people with MS will need to be on treatment for many years.

Not too long ago, there weren’t very many treatment options for MS, especially for children. Recently, however, more quality treatments have been made available that can help prevent more MS inflammation and nerve damage. There are several different classes of treatments for pediatric MS and the best choice of treatment may be different in every person.

Aside from the longer-term medicines, there are also ways we can help with the more day-to-day symptoms of MS like fatigue. The treatment plan should be decided on based on a thorough discussion of the options between the doctor, the person, and their parents.

There are also several ways a person can help themselves in their treatment plan. Regular exercise and healthy diet have been shown to improve symptoms in MS. Smoking is very bad for MS, so it’s important to avoid smoking and vaping. Secondhand smoke has also been shown to worsen MS, so it’s important for everyone in the household to quit smoking if a family member has been diagnosed with MS.

What is the Outlook for People with MS?

Being diagnosed with MS can be very scary. However, many people, especially children, do very well and can live normal or almost normal lives. There are people with MS who are athletes, movie stars, singers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and all jobs in between.

Everyone’s journey is different, but many people with MS can run, play, swim, go skydiving, climb mountains, and live very active lives. In the coming years, we will probably have even more treatment options and maybe even one day be able to cure MS. More information and resources about pediatric MS are available through the National MS Society (

Every year, the MS Society has a fundraising event in Morgantown called the MS Walk. This year, the Walk is at the WVU Coliseum on April 20, 2024, and the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute is a sponsor of the event. To learn more and join or support the WVU Neurology team, please visit:

WVU’s 2023 MS Walk team

Click here to make an appointment with the WVU Medicine Children’s Neuroscience Center or here for more information on treatment of MS and other autoimmune neurological disorders at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.

About the Author

Melanie Ward, MD, is a neurologist and the division chief of the multiple sclerosis (MS) subsection at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI). She completed her medical training at WVU and her residency and MS fellowship at University of Virginia before returning to WVU. Dr. Ward is dedicated to MS care, particularly for underserved and rural populations. Under her leadership, the MS clinic has increased its capacity to see and evaluate patients with MS, expanded participation in clinical trials studying new treatments for MS, and initiated research on tracking day-to-day symptoms in MS. Dr. Ward is also involved in outreach clinics to more rural areas of the state and is part of the Comprehensive Memory Center at RNI. Proud of her West Virginia roots, she is a passionate Mountaineers fan.

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