What Are Infantile Spasms?

Infantile spasms (IS), also called West Syndrome, is a rare type of epilepsy in children.

This syndrome is considered an epileptic encephalopathy or severe brain disorder.

Without early treatment, IS can cause problems with your child's:

  • Cognition
  • Learning
  • Development

The seizures with this type of epilepsy (called "spasms") look like quick body jerks, sometimes with head drops or extended arms.

These seizures are brief, but they can occur in clusters.

At first, many parents think these spasms may be colic, reflux, or "sleep jerks" until they become more severe or frequent.

These seizures begin in infancy, around four to six months of age. They can occur in children both with and without known brain injuries or other health problems.

With IS, you may notice your child is:

  • Smiling less
  • Less interactive and engaged in their environment
  • More irritable
  • Unhappy
  • Inconsolable

Doctors often confirm the diagnosis of infantile spasms with an electroencephalogram (EEG) test. An EEG shows a specific type of abnormal chaotic brainwave pattern called hypsarrhythmia.

Infantile Spasm Causes and Risk Factors

Doctors associate more than 200 different health conditions as possible causes of IS.

Some infants may have had a brain injury, such as a stroke or meningitis. Others may have been born with a genetic mutation or have problems with brain development.

Certain medical and genetic conditions, like Down syndrome, increase the risk of having infantile spasms.

In 20 to 30 percent of children with this type of epilepsy, doctors can't find a cause.

To learn more about infantile spasms, make an appointment, or request an evaluation for a child, contact UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at 412-692-5520.