Overview of
infantile spasms

Infantile spasms are serious
and need immediate attention

If you suspect your child may have infantile spasms, it can feel overwhelming. It's crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of the condition to make informed decisions.

Infantile spasms is a kind of epilepsy in infants and children less than 2 years of age.

  • This condition is rare, but can happen for different reasons
    • For 7 out of 10 babies with infantile spasms, the reasons can be due to genetics, brain injury, infection, or problems with how the brain developed in the womb
    • For 3 out of 10, however, the reasons remain unknown
  • They generally begin in the first year of life and are typically noticed between 4 to 9 months
  • Other names are West syndrome, epileptic spasms, and infantile spasms syndrome
Get familiar with what spasms look like >>

If you suspect infantile spasms, it's important to take quick action. Because the consequences are serious, infantile spasms need immediate care.

  • These spasms can affect the child’s development
  • They can lead to disability
  • In some cases, infantile spasms can be fatal
Trust your instinct if you see movements that look like infantile spasms.

Every day without treatment means a greater chance of mental and physical developmental disabilities.

Take action right away

If there's any kind of advice I can give to new moms and dads out there it’s trust your instinct. I knew something was not right even though a lot of people told me that I was overreacting.”

Misinterpreting signs of infantile spasms

Infantile spasms might look like sudden, brief stiffening of the arms and/or legs or arching of the back

Symptoms are often subtle and easily missed

  • Can be confused with startle, reflux, or colic
  • Some infants may have a surprised look on their face
  • Spasms may be confused with normal baby movements, because infants often have jerky or uncoordinated movements

The non-specific and sometimes subtle nature of infantile spasms can make them easy to misinterpret.

You might attribute the unusual movements to normal baby behaviors or other common conditions, which can lead to a delay in diagnosis.

You might mistake spasms for:

Normal baby movements—infants often exhibit jerky or spontaneous movements, especially in the first few months of life. Parents might see the spasms as just another one of these typical baby motions.
Startle reflex—This is a normal reflex in infants where they might suddenly "startle" with their arms flinging out, often accompanied by a brief cry. Parents may think the spasms are just the baby being startled.
Colic or fussiness—If the spasms are causing the baby to cry or appear uncomfortable, parents might believe their baby is colicky or just going through a fussy phase.
Reflux or digestive issues—If the spasms occur after feeding, parents might attribute the arching and discomfort to digestive problems or reflux.
Normal sleep movements—Parents might observe rhythmic jerking movements when their baby is asleep and think it's just a normal part of infant sleep.
Reaction to vaccination—Infantile spasms usually appear between the ages 4-9 months, which can coincide with vaccination schedules. Parents might mistakenly believe the spasms are a side effect or reaction to a recent vaccination.
Tired or overstimulated—Parents might think the unusual behaviors are just a sign that their baby is tired, overstimulated, or trying to process a lot of new information.
Tics or habits—Thinking that it's just a phase or habitual tic, parents might believe the child will grow out of these movements.

[Infantile spasms] may not be easy to diagnose, as it looks like a tic disorder, or GERD [which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease] in babies. The eyes roll upward, but not in the back of the head. This is a deceiving disorder, because it doesn’t show all of the symptoms of a seizure right away.”

Watch video examples of infantile spasms

Every day matters in infantile spasms

Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to better developmental outcomes.

Every day matters
in infantile spasms

Early diagnosis and treatment are critical
to better developmental outcomes.