Infantile Spasm – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

In the 1840s, Dr. William James West, described the symptoms of infantile spasms. Since then, in medical terms, infantile spasm is known as West Syndrome. It is extremely painful to watch a baby suffer from spasms. Often parents mistake the infantile spasms for colic pain.

Causes of infantile spasms

In about 60 percent cases, an underlying disorder of the brain or brain injury is the cause of spasms.  In rest of the cases, there is no apparent reason behind the infantile spasms.  It is a common misconception that genetics, gender of the child and immunizations are linked to infantile spasms. Infantile spasms usually start between the age of three to twelve months. It usually stops naturally within two to four years.

Symptoms of infantile spasms

The common signs of infantile spasms or West Syndrome consist of sudden jerking of the entire body followed by stiffening of hands and legs. The seizures usually occur in a series or clusters, with each seizure lasting for about one to two seconds. An infantile spasm cluster might comprise of a few seizures to over a hundred seizures.

In a single day, a child might experience up to 60 infantile spasm clusters. Usually the baby bends his/her body forward, the knees are drawn up and the arms are flung apart. These signs of infantile spasms are also known as jackknife seizures. Sometimes, the child might throw his/her head backwards. You might not notice spasms that occur singly, infrequently or in very small clusters. The spasms usually occur in the morning after the child wakes up from sleep or after naps.They rarely occur while the child is sleeping.

Infantile spasm risks

Children without underlying brain or neurological disorders usually do not develop mental disorders. However, some children with infantile spasms might develop autism and mild to severe mental retardation.Although, infantile spasms stop naturally, before or when child attains the age of 5 years, many children develop other kinds of seizures which might impair their, cognitive health in the long run. About 20 percent of children who have had infantile spasms develop Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Infantile spasm treatment

Infantile spasms are usually treated with corticosteroid drugs, adrenocorticotropic hormone and conventional anticonvulsant medications. Ketogenic diet is especially designed for preventing seizures in children.