Infantile spasms (IS) is a seizure disorder in babies. The seizures
(or spasms) make muscles in the arms and legs stiff and bend the baby's head forward.
They look very much like a startle.
Babies also might have slowed development or loss of skills (like babbling, sitting,
or crawling). Although the spasms usually go away by the time a child is 4 years old,
many babies with IS will have other kinds of epilepsy
later in life.
What Do Infantile Spasms Look Like?
Spasms start suddenly and last a second or two. They often come one after another
in a cluster that lasts several minutes. They happen most often just after waking.
They're often mistaken for colic,
reflux, or hiccupping.
A baby having a spasm might have:
the head bent forward with arms flung out and the knees pulled into the body (described
the head bent back with the arms and legs straightened
small movements in the neck or other parts of the body
What Causes Infantile Spasms?
Infantile spasms (also called West syndrome) can be caused by
brain malformations, infections, brain injury, or abnormal blood vessels in the brain.
IS also can happen in babies with certain metabolic and genetic disorders. In rare
cases, a baby's infantile spasms are caused by vitamin B6 deficiency.
Sometimes, the cause isn't known. However, more and more gene mutations are being
linked to infantile spasms.
How Are Infantile Spasms Diagnosed?
Infantile spasms are diagnosed by a pediatric neurologist (a doctor who specializes
in brain, spine and nervous system problems). Testing may include:
blood tests and urine tests (to look for infections or illnesses)
EEG, or electroencephalography
(to see brain waves/electrical activity in the brain). A particular EEG finding called
"hypsarrhythmia" often confirms the diagnosis, but not every child with infantile
spasms will have this.
VEEG, or video electroencephalography (EEG with video recording)
Infantile spasms usually are treated with seizure medicines or steroids. If medicines
don't control the spasms, a special diet, such as the ketogenic
diet, might help. Sometimes, doctors may recommend surgery.
How Can I Help My Child?
To help your child, follow the doctor's instructions to: