Infantile spasms (IS) is a common type of epilepsy occurring among infants and young children. Also called West syndrome, the epilepsy is characterized by a sudden stiffening of the child’s muscles, causing their arms, legs, or head to swiftly bend. The seizures usually happen just after the child wakes up and typically only last for one to two seconds.

While these seizures can be scary, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, infantile spasms usually stop at the age of 4.

IS and low blood sugar

A new study, however, was able to identify the possible causes of infantile spasms. According to the study conducted by Medgenome Labs, the occurrence of infantile spasms can be linked to low blood sugar levels at birth and genetic defects.

According to pediatric neurologist Dr. Vivek Jain, a co-author of the study, the research was conducted on 113 patients after observing that many children coming to his clinic who developed IS had no apparent cause to develop the disorder. Most of them, however, had low blood sugar levels at birth.

The researchers found out that one of the main causes of IS is a baby’s inability to suckle at the mother’s breast, after which low blood sugar levels can occur. Jain said that babies who struggle to breastfeed, with mothers having inadequate support and advice, often leads to low sugar levels as well as brain damage, which can cause IS.

Therefore, in order to reduce the occurrence of IS, it is necessary to develop guidelines to recognize and manage infants who are at risk of developing hypoglycemia.

Jain added that it is also essential for families, especially new mothers, to be aware of the consequences of low blood sugar levels at birth. This way, the family can work together to make sure that the newborn baby gets enough milk even if the mother is struggling to breastfeed.

The role of genetic defects

But not all children who develop IS experienced low blood sugar at levels at birth. Using MRI and Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), a method used to sequence a person’s DNA, the team of researchers also discovered that one of the factors that cause the disorder is a genetic defect. Because of the limited nature of the study, the team is planning to conduct a more detailed genetic study on the causes of infantile and childhood epilepsy.

Meanwhile, the team recommends conducting a Whole Exome Sequencing among patients who show no apparent cause of IS for a proper diagnosis. This will also help in preventing the disorder from occurring in future pregnancies.


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