What Are the Causes of Hand Tremors in Infants?

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If your baby’s hands are shaky or jerky, you may worry that something’s wrong. More than likely, your infant is exhibiting normal behavior, but in rare instances, hand tremors may be a sign of something more serious. If you think your child may be suffering from a disease or syndrome, it’s smart to discuss it with your pediatrician.

What's Normal

According to the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, it is perfectly normal and common for infants to have quivery or shaky hands, limbs or chins. Many baby’s hands shake immediately upon waking up, and some children respond to low blood sugar by quivering all over. Shaky hands are also a common response to happiness or excitement in babies.

Infantile Spasms

If your baby’s hands shake or spasm, if she flings her arms about, if her movements are jerky, if her arms and legs stiffen or if she throws her head back in conjunction with these other behaviors, your baby might have infantile spasms. Infantile spasms are most typically seen when a baby wakes up but can also occur at other times, including during sleep. According to Epilepsy.com, infantile spasms usually begin around age 3 months and stop between the ages of 2 and 4 years, without treatment. Some babies with the spasms are perfectly healthy otherwise, but about 60 percent have some sort of brain disorder.

Ataxia

Sometimes infants with shaky limbs have ataxia–the medical name for a lack of coordination. This has the potential to make crawling, walking and other motor skills difficult. Ataxia is the result of an underlying condition–usually a damaged cerebellum (the portion of the brain controlling muscle coordination). Premature infants or babies with cerebral palsy are especially prone to ataxia.

Hypothyroidism

It is rare for American babies to have undiagnosed hypothyroidism, says Mary Shomon, author of "Living Well with Hypothyroidism." Newborns are given a heel stick test (where blood is taken from the heel of the foot and then tested for a number of things, including hypothyroidism) within days of birth.

In addition to shaky hands, babies with hypothyroidism might experience puffiness in the face, mottled skin, lack of interest or ability in consuming food, overall floppiness of the body and constipation.

Treatment

Treatment of hand tremors in infants varies and requires evaluation from a pediatrician or specialist.

Infantile spasms are sometimes treated with steroids or seizure medication. If the spasms are caused by an underlying problem, the child will usually be mentally retarded, even after treatment. About 10 to 20 percent of children who were developing normally before they experienced spasms will be mildly impaired.

Treatment for the underlying cause can sometimes cure ataxia. For persistent ataxia, physical therapy, occupational therapy (which helps with fine motor skills like self-feeding) or speech therapy may be necessary.

A daily prescription for thyroid hormones is required to treat hypothyroidism, along with frequent visits to the doctor to check hormone levels. According to Shomon, if left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause mental retardation.

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