Around 125 British children suffer a multiple sclerosis-like attack each year, Birmingham researchers have said.
The average age for a first MS-like symptom was 10, with more girls affected than boys, a study found.
Children presented with symptoms such as problems with sight and numb hands or feet.
The news comes after TV daredevil Jack Osbourne, the son of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, revealed that he has the incurable autoimmune disease.
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 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 Dr 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.”
Michael Absoud, clinical research fellow at the University of Birmingham and who also worked on the study, said: “Not all children who experience an MS-like attack will go on to develop the condition. Some will recover fully and never experience similar symptoms again, while others have longer-term problems that eventually lead to a diagnosis of MS.
“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.”
MS Society head of biomedical research Dr Doug Brown said: “Around one in 20 adults with MS experience their first symptoms in childhood, so this is an incredibly important area of research for us.
“Historically, MS has always been considered as an older person’s condition but we’re now seeing people diagnosed much younger, so the more we understand about childhood MS the better health professionals can be at diagnosing the condition and offering treatment and vital support to young people and their families.”