The aim of this study was to evaluate the incidence of paediatric multiple sclerosis (MS) and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) in Germany. In a prospective nationwide survey carried out between 1997 and 1999, all registered new cases of paediatric MS and ADEM with an onset before the age of 16 years were evaluated using a standardised questionnaire. A total of 132 patients with suspected or definite MS and 28 patients with an assumed diagnosis of ADEM were reported. Among these, 82% of the MS patients were 10 years of age or older, as opposed to 18% in the ADEM-cohort. The female-to-male ratio was 1.2:1 in the MS-cohort and 0.8:1 in the ADEM-cohort. Manifestation was polysymptomatic in 67% of the MS patients compared to 86% of the ADEM patients. The most frequent primary symptoms in the MS-cohort were cerebellar (44%), sensory (39%) or visual (36%), followed by brainstem (30%), pyramidal (29%) and cerebromental (22%) complaints.
Conclusion: The incidence of paediatric MS in Germany is more than fourfold higher than that of paediatric ADEM; in addition, it shows a strikingly different age-distribution. With an estimated minimum of 50 new cases per year, the incidence of paediatric MS in Germany is much more frequent than previously believed.