Epilepsy Syndromes Infantile

Infantile spasms are a specific type of seizure characteristic of a type of epilepsy known as West syndrome. Infant spasms usually begin sometime within the first year of life, and stop by around 5 years of age. In many cases, infantile seizures are the result of an underlying problem, such as a developmental disorder, which can lead to other forms of epilepsy later in life.

What Causes Infantile Spasms?

According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America®, approximately 75 percent of infantile spasms are the result of some form of abnormality in the brain. The most common conditions associated with infantile seizures are tuberous sclerosis (benign tumors in the brain and other organs) and perinatal asphyxia (lack of oxygen). Both of these conditions produce a developmental delay. Other underlying conditions may include:

  • Brain injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Infection.

The baby’s gender, family history and reaction to vaccinations do not appear to have any effect on infantile spasms.

What Do Infantile Spasms Look Like?

Typically, a sudden bending forward and stiffening of the body are characteristic of infantile spasms. Seizures in infants have been called “jackknife seizures” because of this distinctive bending forward of the body. Other possible behaviors that could indicate an infantile seizure include:

  • An arching of the torso
  • Arms are flung out from the body
  • Arms are folded across the body
  • Body is stiff and straight
  • Head nods forward repeatedly
  • Knees are drawn up.

After the onset of infantile spasms, a baby may stop developing normally and could even lose the ability to do things she could do before, like sit up or roll over.

Infant spasms usually occur soon after the baby wakes up. Each seizure is generally only a few seconds long and may be missed or easily mistaken for cramps due to colic. Unlike cramps, however, infantile seizures occur in clusters of as many as 100 seizures at a time.

What’s the Prognosis for Infantile Spasms?

Because infantile seizures are so often the result of a brain disorder, most children will continue to experience long-term cognitive impairment as a result. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that more than half of infants who experience infantile spasms will go on to develop other types of epilepsy seizures, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The outlook is more promising for children who do not have a brain abnormality or developmental disorder.

Infantile Spasms: Treatment Options

Although infantile spasms will sometimes stop on their own, treatment is usually required. Talk to your doctor about your options, such as the following:

  • Antiepileptic drugs have generally proven to be successful in treating infantile spasms. Treatment is initially applied quite rigorously, but may be stopped once infantile seizures are under control.
  • Brain surgery may be necessary in cases where infant spasms are caused by a brain lesion.
  • The ketogenic diet has been shown to be effective, particularly in treating children who have not responded well to anti-epileptic medication.


Boyd, J.