Infantile spasms: What you should know
Early treatment can result in better outcomes. So it's good to know the signs.
Colds, coughs, the flu, even chicken pox and measles: these are illnesses parents are familiar with and usually know how to handle if their child contracts one of them. But there are other conditions that are not that well-known, yet, can have dire consequences on a child. Infantile spasms is one such condition.
By arming yourself with knowledge about this condition, you can seek treatment early for better outcomes -- waiting for too long can result in developmental delays and even brain damage in a child.
All you need to know about infantile spasms
What are they?
Also known as West syndrome, infantile spasms is a form of epilepsy. Around 1 in 2,000 children are affected by it.
Typically, it begins between two to 12 months of age in a baby, and peaks between four to eight months. They are characterised by, "epileptic spasms, developmental problems, and a specific brain wave pattern on electroencephalography (EEG) testing called hypsarrhythmia."
Characteristics of these seizures
The seizures may last only a second or two. Also, the spasms occur close together (in clusters) with each seizure occurring every five to 10 seconds.
During infantile spasms, a baby's body will stiffen suddenly. The back might arch and the limbs and head might bend forward. They can often be difficult to spot, but are most common just after baby wakes up. They rarely happen while a baby is sleeping.
After these seizures in their baby, parents may notice the following changes:
- Increased fussiness or silence
- Loss of previously learned developmental milestones (e.g. rolling, sitting)
- Loss of smiling and social behaviour
Because it's so hard to know what to look out for in infantile spasms, take a look at this video that shows a baby experiencing them:
What causes infantile spasms?
A huge range of brain abnormalities or injuries can cause infantile spasms. According to Healthy Children:
"More than 50 genetic/metabolic diseases are associated with infantile spasms, and many patients have other disorders that cause developmental delays (e.g., cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, etc.) prior to the onset of the spasms.".
If you think your baby suffers from this condition, it's really important that you speak to your paediatrician without delay. Early diagnosis is key to a speedy recovery.
Video your baby's suspected spasms and bring this with you to the doctor. Your baby may be referred to a paediatric neurologist.
You baby might need to have a test called video-electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring. Video-EEG helps identify certain brainwave patterns during infantile spasms. Particularly, paediatric neurologists will look for an EEG pattern called hypsarrhythmia.
If this is apparent, then the diagnosis of infantile seizure can be made without hesitation.
The American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society recommend adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) as the standrad first-line therapy for infantile spasms.
This medicine is given as an injection, and will need to continue for around six weeks. Medication aims to both stop the infantile spasms, and improve the abnormal EEG.
What is important is that treatment starts as early as possible for a brighter outlook.
Remember this: STOP Infantile spasms
Keep this easily remembered acronym in mind: 'STOP’ Infantile Spasms by Healthy Children:
- See the signs: Clusters of sudden, repeated, uncontrolled movements like head bobs or body crunching.
- Take a video: Record the symptoms and talk to your doctor immediately.
- Obtain diagnosis: Confirm an irregular brain wave pattern with an EEG test.
- Prioritize treatment: End spasms to minimize developmental delays.