How Does Age Affect MS?
If you have MS, it's important to understand how your age could affect the disease's course.
By Multiple Sclerosis Connect Staff December 12 464 1
Multiple sclerosis most often strikes adults between the ages of 20 and 40, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Vision problems are usually the first sign that something is wrong. But young children and older adults can also be diagnosed with the disease. If you have MS, it's important to understand how your age could affect the disease's course.
MS in children is rare. The Multiple Sclerosis Trust says that only three to five percent of cases develop before the age of 16. Most children who get MS are over age 10, but a few develop symptoms by the time they are 2 years old. The disease is difficult to diagnose in young people, especially since another condition, called acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis, presents with similar symptoms.
In children, the the relapsing-remitting form of MS is most common. Symptoms seem to progress more slowly in children than adults, but the National Multiple Sclerosis Society says that pediatric MS episodes can be more severe and return more often. Kids are likelier to experience seizures and lethargy, and they may struggle in school due to cognitive problems.
As a review in the journal Neurotherapeutics discussed on PubMed, some of the disease-modifying MS drugs prescribed for adults have been used off-label in children. But research is lacking on their effectiveness and safety for young people.
MS in older adults
Adults diagnosed with MS after 50 may either have lived with undiagnosed symptoms for years or experienced a rare late onset of the disease. Everyday Health says that cases appearing later in life can be difficult to diagnose. That’s because MS symptoms may be similar to those of other neurological conditions or even seem to be only the natural effects of aging.
The disease can contribute to mobility and cognitive problems, with older patients more likely to be physically disabled. They are also more likely to develop infections like pneumonia or urinary tract infections.
Otherwise, MS in older adults is in many ways similar to that in younger people. Primary progressive MS may be more common in older people with MS than in others, but a 2014 study suggested that relapsing-remitting is still the most common form of the disease. As with younger adults, older people with MS benefit from following their doctor’s prescribed treatments, getting enough exercise and rest, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy diet.