Spasmus nutans

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Definition

Spasmus nutans is a disorder affecting infants and young children. It involves rapid, uncontrolled eye movements, head bobbing, and, sometimes, holding the neck in an abnormal position.

Causes

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

The cause is unknown, although it may be associated with other medical conditions. A link with iron or vitamin D deficiency has been suggested. Rarely, symptoms similar to spasmus nutans may be due to certain types of brain tumors or other serious conditions.

Symptoms

Symptoms of spasmus nutans include:

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

Exams 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 symptoms are caused by another condition, that condition must be treated appropriately.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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

Possible Complications

There are usually no complications.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

References

Dai A, Saygili O. Risk factors in spasmus nutans. Adv Clin Exp Med. 2011:20(,2),:183-186.

Olitsky SE, Hug D, Plummer LS, Stass-Isern M. Disorders of eye movement and alignment. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 615.

Quiros PA, Yee RD. Nystagmus, saccadic intrusions, and oscillations. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Sunders; 2013:chap 9.19.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 6/1/2015
  • Daniel Kantor, MD, Kantor Neurology, Coconut Creek, FL and Immediate Past President of the Florida Society of Neurology (FSN). Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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