Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a nervous system disease that affects your brain and spinal cord. It damages the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects your nerve cells. Although multiple sclerosis occurs most commonly in adults, it is also diagnosed in children and adolescents. Estimates suggest that 8,000-10,000 children (defined as up to 18 years old) in the United States have multiple sclerosis, and another 10,000-15,000 have experienced at least one symptom suggestive of MS.
A person with MS can have almost any neurological symptom or sign, which can include:
- Visual disturbances
- Muscle weakness
- Trouble with coordination and balance
- Sensations such as numbness, prickling, or “pins and needles”
- Thinking and memory problems
The specific symptoms are determined by the locations of the lesions within the nervous system, and may include changes in sensation or loss of sensitivity such as tingling, pins and needles or numbness, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, very pronounced reflexes, or difficulty in moving; difficulties with coordination and balance; problems with speech or swallowing, visual problems (double vision), chronic pain, or feeling tired. Difficulties thinking and emotional problems such as mood swings and depression are also common.
No one knows what causes MS. It may be an autoimmune disease, which happens when your body attacks itself. Multiple sclerosis affects women more than men. There is no cure for MS, but medicines may slow it down and help control symptoms. Physical and occupational therapy may also help.