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Infantile Spasm (West's Syndrome)

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Infantile spasm, sometimes known as West Syndrome, is a very rare form of childhood epilepsy. The spasms often begin between 3 and 12 months of age and usually consist of a sudden bending forward of the body with stiffening of the arms and legs; some children arch their backs as they extend their arms and legs.

You will be glad to know that the Epilepsy Center at Children’s Health is a Level 4 Epilepsy Center, providing the highest level of treatment for children with epilepsy. That means we have experience identifying infantile spasm, and in treating the condition.

We were the first such program in the country to be certified by the Joint Commission, the nation’s preeminent standard-setting accrediting and certifying regulatory body in healthcare. Our interdisciplinary medical team has the experience to not only comprehensively diagnose children with this condition, but we remain the area’s only center to perform the most advanced procedures and therapies for the treatment of epilepsy.

Because this condition affects your child and your family, you will be glad to know we provide care for the whole family, including education and support.

In addition, the Epilepsy Center works with referring physicians and area Emergency Departments to:

  • Provide seizure safety education programs
  • Expedite appointments in order to get your child evaluated quick
Symptoms

Symptoms

Symptoms of infantile spasm may be difficult to spot because they can look like a typical startle reflex or head bobbing, or seem like colic or reflux. Spasms tend to occur upon awakening or after feeding, and often occur in clusters of up to 100 spasms at a time. Infants may have dozens of clusters and several hundred spasms per day.

Early diagnosis of the condition is important for treatment success.

Tests and Diagnosis

Tests and Diagnosis

To diagnose infantile spasm, your physician will do a detailed physical exam of your child, which may include an electroencephalogram (EEG). The EEG helps determine where in the brain the spasms are coming from and if your child has epilepsy. An EEG is performed by placing electrodes on the scalp and recording the electrical activity of the brain.

Treatments

Treatments

If your child is diagnosed with infantile spasm, it is important to begin the right treatment as quickly as possible to eliminate the spasms. When treatment is started early, babies are more likely to respond and remain seizure-free.

For most children, medications such as hormones, corticosteroids or antiepileptic drugs can effectively control the spasms. A ketogenic diet, a regimen of high-fat, low-carbohydrate foods, may also be prescribed.

FAQs

FAQs 

What causes infantile spasm?
Infantile spasm is usually caused by an injury or disease of the brain, including infections and genetic disorders. In about 30 percent of children with the condition, no cause is determined.

What are the symptoms of infantile spasm?
The spasms usually consist of a sudden bending forward of the body with stiffening of the arms and legs. Some children arch their backs as they extend their arms and legs. Spasms last just a few seconds and then are repeated in several clusters in a row.

What kind of tests are there for infantile spasm?
Doctors first need to be sure that spasms aren’t due to something else before they diagnose epilepsy. An electroencephalogram (EEG) can show the electrical activity in the brain that indicates epilepsy.

How is infantile spasm treated?
For most children, medications such as hormones, corticosteroids or antiepileptic drugs can effectively control the spasms. If the doctor determines the spasms are caused by brain lesions, surgery may result in improvement.

What are the side effects of infantile spasm treatment?
There can be side effects from treatment as well as from the disorder. Treatments can cause high blood pressure, infection and a weakened immune system. Without treatment, development will slow and reverse.

Where can I find a support group?
Our Epilepsy Center will provide you with resources to help both you and your child. The Resources link on this webpage is also a good source for more information about epilepsy and support groups.

Can infantile spasm be cured?
Treatment can often eliminate and control the spasms.

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