How common is MS, and who is at risk?

MS in children and teens is considered to be rare. Although about 2% to 5% of people with MS have symptoms in their youth, most are only diagnosed as adults. The National MS Society estimates there are about 8,000 to 10,000 children and teens with MS in the United States. (Statistics are not available for Canada.)

Children and teens whose family members have MS are at a higher risk of having the condition. The lifetime risk for MS for someone in the general population is about 1 in 750. For people who have a parent with MS, it's closer to 1 in 40. Before the age of 12, more boys than girls are diagnosed with MS. After age 12, the risk is higher in females. The difference may be related to hormone changes during puberty.

Children and teens are usually diagnosed with MS between ages 10 and 15. But MS can appear much earlier than this. There are records of children with MS symptoms as early as 13 months, and a diagnosis of MS at 2 years of age. It may be very difficult to tell the difference between normal developmental changes and MS symptoms in very young children. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns that your child may be at risk for MS.

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