Infantile Spasms

What Is It?

Infantile spasms are a specific type of seizure which can be associated with various forms of epilepsy. As the name implies, they typically occur in infants and very young children. Patients with these types of seizures usually stop having these seizures by around 5 years of age on average but are usually replaced by other seizure types.

Infantile spasms is the name for the type of seizure, but does not explain the underlying cause of the infant epilepsy. There are various underlying diseases which can be associated with these seizures including West Syndrome (characterized by infantile spasms, hypsarrhythmia and mental retardation), cortical dysplasia, hemimegalencephaly and cerebral palsy, to name a few.

What Types of Symptoms Are Typical?

The typical spasms usually first present in the first year of life, most commonly between 3 to 6 months but can occur as early as birth. The seizure itself is usually characterized by sudden bending forward and stiffening of the body, arms and legs, sometimes followed by flacidity. The are more frequent after arousal from sleep. Each spasm is usually brief, only lasting seconds, but can occur in clusters of many spasms in a row. The frequency and severity of these seizures varies depending on the underlying cause and is different in each patient. In severe cases patients can have dozens of clusters and even hundreds of spasms a day.

How Is The Diagnosis Typically Made?

These seizures are generally diagnosed in infancy by their clinical characteristics followed by a thorough neurological evaluation and an electroencephalogram which demonstrates seizure activity. Further testing, including MRI and other neurological testing may be done to identify the underlying cause of the seizures.

What Are Some Common Treatments?

Untreated infantile spasms, like any form of seizures in early life, can lead to developmental delay and mental retardation. Generally, the goal if possible is to reduce or eliminate the seizures as early in life as possible with a combination of treatments. Medical treatments can include medications to reduce the seizure frequency. These medications include both anti-seizure medications as well as ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and prednisone in some cases.

In some patients a focal brain lesion can be identified which is thought to be the source of the seizures. If these cases cannot be controlled with medication alone, some will be offered surgery to surgically remove the source of the epilepsy in the brain.

If the seizures cannot be controlled or eliminated completely, many of these patients will develop other seizure types and epilepsy syndromes later in life.

Each patient is different and there are multiple potential causes of this type of seizure. Each patient and their family should consult their own treating physicians regarding the recommended treatment options and prognosis.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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