Spasms are seizures, caused by an unusual nerve activity in the brain. They occur more often in children than in adults because the baby’s brain is developing and therefore more susceptible to disturbances than the brain of an adult.
Causes of spasms in children are different. In most cases the cause is unknown (so-called idiopathic epilepsy, see epilepsy), and in some cases the cause is elevated temperature of some mild infection (febrile convulsion). However, spasms may also occur in children with cerebral palsy, brain tumors or meningitis (see meningitis in infants and children). Changes in body chemistry, such as when a diabetic kid gets too much insulin (see diabetes), can also cause spasms.
Grand mal or large spasm attack is the most common type of spasms. The child suddenly falls on the floor, becomes unconscious, and its arms and legs are stiff. After a few seconds, the arms and legs, and sometimes the face, start to rhythmically crank or shake, often very hard. The attack usually lasts for about two minutes, and during that time the child can wet himself or discharge a stool.
In the next few minutes, the baby slowly returns to consciousness, and then is ill tempered and can complain about the headache. Soon after that, the child falls asleep and sleeps with a deep sleep for several hours. When the child wakes up, the condition is quite normal.
Most of the febrile seizures, when the child has an elevated temperature, takes the form of a major seizure. Other grand mal convulsions can be the result of epilepsy, especially if they are recurrent, and the baby does not have an elevated temperature. One or two short seizures of the grand mal convulsion will most likely not be harmful, but long seizures can damage the temporal lobe and cause psychomotor convulsions.
Petit mal, or small seizures, can occur a few times a day and are often confused with ”fantasizing”. The child suddenly stays motionless, stares in empty space for a few seconds, and occasionally falls. When the seizure is over, a child usually does not know what happened. Petit mal seizures usually disappear when a child grows up.
Psychomotor spasms: without an obvious reason, the child suddenly stops and stares, then gets frightened and acts aggressively. Such behavior may stop or pass into a complete and severe convulsion that lasts for several minutes. After that, the child does not know what was he doing.
Infantile spasms: with a sudden twitch, an infant or a small child starts bending in the waist, which lasts for one to two seconds. This type of spasms occurs several times a day, starts at the age of three months and sometimes lasts for several years.
Approximately one in 25 children has one or more seizures. They are usually hereditary, and are more common among mentally disabled children or children who are suffering from cerebral palsy.
Spasms, by themselves, cause little complications. The greatest danger is that stronger spasms (grand mal) can end with permanent brain damage that will be manifested in the form of mental retardation or cerebral palsy.
What to do?
Spasms often cause great concern for parents, although they do not generally affect the child’s health. Even so, the first child who has had a seizure attack should be taken to a doctor within 24 hours. However, if any seizure attack lasts longer than five minutes, immediately call the emergency. If your baby has a grand mal type seizure, follow the instructions on how to treat epilepsy. Do not try to stop the attack or push something between the teeth to prevent the patient from biting the own tongue. If your child has other types of convulsions, just remove all the items that could hurt him. Try to record the details of the seizures and describe them to your doctor to help him with diagnose.
After the first seizure, convulsions, regardless of the type, except for the first seizure of febrile convulsions that are known to cause high temperature) are followed by medical examinations. As the cramps are stronger, it is more likely that the patient will be admitted to the hospital for more detailed examination.
In most cases a detailed physical examination and encephalography (EEG) is performed. Thereafter, X-rays can be recorded, computerized axial tomography (CT scan) and cerebral angiography.
Self-help: if your child has an infection and has already had a febrile seizure, take some temperature reduction measures to avoid the possibility of re-seizure of the spasms. Give your child aspirin and tell the doctor that the child has an infection. Measure the child’s temperature every 2 hours. If it is higher than 38 ° C, remove some of the child’s clothing, soak the sponge in the lukewarm water and wipe the face and upper part of the body, and then turn on the fan to prevent so that it won’t be too hot for the child.
Professional help: if it is found that spasms are the result of some basic illness, such as a brain tumor or meningitis, that disease will be treated. All recurrent seizures of convulsions that may be caused by mental retardation, cerebral palsy or some other illness are cured by long-term drug therapy. Such treatment will probably take several years and, in some cases, life-long.
Psychomotor spasms are usually difficult to treat. Combinations of various medications may help in some cases. In some serious cases, a surgical procedure is performed to remove the entire temporal bone or just a part of it.
Tell your child’s teachers about seizures, especially if a child needs to take medication while in the classroom. As soon as drugs reduce the frequency of seizures, the child should be encouraged to participate in all the usual activities, unless the doctor advises something else. If a child, under the influence of drugs, has no seizures for at least two years, he or she may stop taking medication, but the doctor will closely monitor his / her condition.