Around 125 British children suffer a multiple sclerosis-like attack each year, researchers have said.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Children’s Hospital examined data from paediatrics and ophthalmologists across the UK.
They found that the number of children with MS-like symptoms in Britain is higher than in Germany and Canada where similar studies have been carried out.
One in 20 adults with MS will experience their first symptoms in childhood, they said.
The average age for a first MS-like symptom was 10, with more girls affected than boys, the study found. Children presented with symptoms such as problems with sight and numb hands or feet.
The authors of the report, published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis, hope the findings will help raise the profile of childhood MS among health professionals.
With MS, white blood cells attack the coating of the nerve cells which help messages from the brain travel to the rest of the body. As these cells are damaged, people experience numbness and tingling, blurred vision, mobility and balance problems, and muscle weakness and tightness.
Birmingham Children’s Hospital paediatric neurologist Evangeline Wassmer, who conducted the research, said: “My hope is that the acknowledgement of childhood MS in the UK will lead to early diagnosis and treatment and improve the quality of life of children with the condition.
“Although rare, MS can occur in childhood but knowledge about the number of children affected by the condition, how the illness progresses and how it could best be treated is severely lacking which is why our research is so important,” Dr Wassmer said.