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NINDS Infantile Spasms Information Page

Synonym(s):   West Syndrome

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What are Infantile Spasms?

An infantile spasm (IS) is a specific type of seizure seen in an epilepsy syndrome of infancy and childhood known as West Syndrome. West Syndrome is characterized by infantile spasms, developmental regression, and a specific pattern on electroencephalography (EEG) testing called hypsarrhythmia (chaotic brain waves). The onset of infantile spasms is usually in the first year of life, typically between 4-8 months. The seizures primarily 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 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. Infantile spasms usually stop by age five, but may be replaced by other seizure types. Many underlying disorders, such as birth injury, metabolic disorders, and genetic disorders can give rise to spasms, making it important to identify the underlying cause. In some children, no cause can be found.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment with corticosteroids such as prednisone is standard, although serious side effects can occur. Several newer antiepileptic medications, such as topiramate may ease some symptoms. Vigabatrin (Sabril©) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat infantile spasms in children ages one month to two years.  Some children have spasms as the result of brain lesions, and surgical removal of these lesions may result in improvement.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for children with IS is dependent on the underlying causes of the seizures. The intellectual prognosis for children with IS is generally poor because many babies with IS have neurological impairment prior to the onset of spasms. Spasms usually resolve by mid-childhood, but more than half of the children with IS will develop other types of seizures. There appears to be a close relationship between IS and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, an epileptic disorder of later childhood.

What research is being done?

The NINDS supports broad and varied programs of research on epilepsy and other seizure disorders. This research is aimed at discovering new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat these disorders and, ultimately, to find cures for them. Hopefully, more effective and safer treatments, such as neuroprotective agents, will be developed to treat IS and West Syndrome.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Infantile Spasms Clinical Trials

Organizations

Column1 Column2
Epilepsy Foundation
8301 Professional Place
Landover, MD   20785-7223
postmaster@efa.org
http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org
Tel: 301-459-3700 800-EFA-1000 (332-1000)
Fax: 301-577-2684

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT   06810
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

Intractable Childhood Epilepsy Alliance
PO Box 365
6360 Shallowford Road
Lewisville, NC   27023
info@ice-epilepsy.org
http://www.ice-epilepsy.org
Tel: 336-946-1570
Fax: 336-946-1571

 
Related NINDS Publications and Information


Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

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Last updated April 16, 2014