Multiple Sclerosis
Signs and Symptoms

About 400,000 Americans suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS), which is most commonly diagnosed in young adults. In rare cases, the condition affects infants, children and adolescents. Up to 5 percent of people with MS experience symptoms before the age of 18.

Due to a recent increase in education about pediatric MS, the number of children diagnosed has risen. But there is still a lack of awareness about the disease in those under age 18 and it is believed that MS is often under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed in this population.

MS symptoms may mimic those of other conditions and may differ in severity, depending on where the damage occurs in the central nervous system.

Tingling, numbness and sensations of tightness or weakness may result when myelin in the spinal cord is damaged. Damage to the cerebellum portion of the brain may result in imbalance or a lack of coordination.

Because MS can cause a wide variety of symptoms, doctors frequently struggle to diagnose the disease. Common symptoms in children include:

  • Bladder or bowel control problems
  • Clumsiness or weakness
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Eye problems, such as double vision or uncontrolled eye movements. Also, a sudden loss of vision is often a telltale sign of MS in children.
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle stiffness or spasms
  • Slurred speech
  • Tingling or numbness in body parts
  • Tremors

Some children also experience cognitive impairments related to the disease, which may range in severity. These include difficulty with concentration, attention and memory, which may affect a child's academic performance.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Pediatric Brain Center

Multiple Sclerosis Center
1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor, 5A
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-3939
Fax: (415) 353-3543
Appointment information

Patient Experiences