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Spasmus nutans

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. In very rare cases, 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 called nystagmus (both eyes are involved, but each eye may move differently)
  • Head nodding
  • Head tilting

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam of the child. The parents will be asked about their child's symptoms.

Tests may include:

Treatment

Spasmus nutans that isn't related to another medical problem, such as brain tumor, requires no treatment. If the symptoms are caused by another condition, the provider will recommend appropriate treatment.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

References

Hertle RW, Hanna NN. Supranuclear eye movement disorders, acquired and neurologic nystagmus. In: Lambert SR, Lyons CJ, eds. Taylor and Hoyt's Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 90.

Lavin PJM. Neuro-ophthalmology: ocular motor system. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 44.

Review Date 5/15/2017

Updated by: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.