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Spasmus nutans

Definition

Spasmus nutans is a disorder affecting infants and young children. It involves rapid, uncontrolled eye movements, head bobbing, and occasionally, abnormal positioning of the neck.

See also: Nystagmus

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Most cases of spasmus nutans begin between age 4 months and 1 year. It usually goes away by itself in several months to years.

The cause is unknown, although it may be associated with other medical conditions. (Rarely, symptoms similar to spasmus nutans may be due to certain types of brain tumors.)

Symptoms

  • Small, quick, side-to-side eye movements (nystagmus) - both eyes are involved, but each eye may move differently
  • Head nodding
  • Head tilting

Signs and tests

A neurologic examination confirms the presence of the symptoms.

Tests may include:

Treatment

The benign form of spasmus nutans requires no treatment. If the spasmus nutans is caused by another condition, that condition must be treated appropriately.

Expectations (prognosis)

Usually, this disorder goes away on its own without treatment.

Complications

There are usually no complications.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if your child has rapid involuntary movements of the eyes or head nodding. The doctor will need to perform an exam to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms.

References

Olitsky SE, Hug D, Smith LP. Disorders of eye movement and alignment. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th Ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 622.

Review Date: 6/24/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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