Shuddering spells

The Pediatric Insider

© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD

“My 11 month old daughter was seen for odd shaking of her torso and head at weird times. They said it was a shuddering attack. What is that? Do I need to worry?”

Babies sometimes move in mysterious ways. They wiggle and squirm and sometimes bits of them tremble or flail about—and it can be worrying, sometimes, when your baby moves oddly. Often, the movements really aren’t anything with a specific name or diagnosis. They might be, as a ped neurologist once told me, “CBS”. He had a bit of a potty mouth, so I’ll let you figure out what those letters mean*. Needless to say, as a young resident I cringed when he used that term in front of parents.

Shuddering attacks (sometimes called “shuddering spells”) are one very specific, normal example of a weird baby movement that’s normal and means nothing. They’re not super-common, but they’re not super-uncommon either. I see at least a few kids with this each year.

Shuddering attacks usually happen in babies and young children. They’ll suddenly bend their necks or trunks, and have a shiver-like movement– almost as if they’re having a chill. The body may briefly stiffen. During the event, the child is completely conscious and interactive (though sometimes with babies this is hard to confirm.) The episode usually lasts about 5 seconds, and afterwards the child is completely fine.

Though shuddering itself is completely normal and benign, it can be concerning to parents when it’s not clear what’s going on. In some ways, a shudder can seem like a very brief seizure, but there are some big differences. Shudders, unlike seizures, never happen during sleep. After most seizures, a child experiences a period of sleepiness. And shudders themselves have such a characteristic movement that once they’re seen, they can be easy to recognize.

Sometimes, I’ve asked parents of children who may be having shudders (or other weird movements) to try to capture the event on a video. In fact, there are several examples posted on Youtube.

The diagnosis of shuddering attacks is usually made based on the history, along with an otherwise normal exam. If a pediatrician isn’t sure, a neurology referral can sometimes be helpful. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, no further testing or treatment is needed. These sorts of shudders usually stop within a few years, though even adults might occasionally feel a tingle down their spines once in a while.

*Hint: The first two letters stand for “crazy baby”

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10 Comments on “Shuddering spells”

  1. Desiree Says:

    My older daughter would frequently shudder when she was peeing as a baby and toddler. She eventually outgrew it. I wonder if peeing is a common shuddering trigger for babies?


  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    You know, I think I have sometimes noticed a weird shudder feeling occasionally myself! (Sorry, maybe TMI!)


  3. Katelyn Says:

    My 2 month old just got dinosed with shuddering attacks on 12/13/12 and it scare me at night to go sleep cause my daughter does it in her sleep instead of being awake during the day.


  4. Valerie Says:

    My 5 month old has been doing this since she was born (almost), and it mainly happens right after she feeds. We thought it was odd and googled what it could be. Bad idea (why dont I ever learn this lesson!?). We took her to see the pediatrician specifically for this and she did a quick in-office neurology test and said she seemed perfect, but wanted to have a neurologist see her to do a more complete evaluation just to ensure we werent missing anything. This, of course, scared me even more! Now Im ultra paranoid as she does this (quite funny) thing when she is having a bottle where she twitches her leg – sort of kicks it – and now Im worried that its more than just the shudders and everything is related. HELP! Am I stressing out over nothing? Is she just growing into her nervous system? Could these things be totally benign?

    Thank you!!


  5. Dr. Roy Says:

    Valerie, you’ve seen your own ped and a neurologist– I haven’t examined your child at all. You ought to rely more on the experts who’ve seen and evaluated your child, not a doc on the internet like me!


  6. Nikki Says:

    i’m wondering if this is what my 15month old is having. when he wakes up he “shudders” from head to toe for a few seconds and then seems fine.
    He has been having them for months and no one has been able to tell me what it is. None of the pediatritians have seems very concerned about it.


  7. jenni Says:

    Hi Nikki,
    My 20 month old has been doing the same shudder thing since he was born–it looks like a cross between a shudder and a spasm. it used to be often when he ate, was overly tired, over stimulated or right when he woke up. I was able to capture it on video when he was 10 months old since he had a shudder or two every time he woke up, and my pediatrician just commented on how cute it was and confirmed that it was a benign “shudder attack.” He told me he would outgrow them by now, but he still has them when he’s tired. When I read about baby shudders online, many articles that said they can continue through early childhood, so I guess I won’t worry that he’s still getting them!


  8. Marie Says:

    My 17 month old was just diagnosed with shudder attacks. The neurologist said that he might be left with an essential tremor. I’m scared to death of him having something that would affect him for the rest of his life and possibly be a medication for the rest of his life. What happens to children who grow out of shutter attacks? What is the likelihood of them getting an essential tremor from it?


  9. j Says:

    I live in the UK and I saw this post after searching as my child seems to have what I’d call a ‘shuddering spell’ occasionally. I went to out GP who had never really heard of it. So as I saw your post I was wondering if you had any information on it, or if you’d be willing to see the example I captured and if it’s the same thing you described in this blog post?
    Some things I’ve seen online have suggested this is linked to a nervous system disorder, is this at all true? Also, is this something children grow out of? Should I be worried and pester my doctor again?


  10. Mary Gentry Says:

    My grandson 2.5 seems to experience shudders when he’s get angry, He grits his teeth and his right arm shakes. He makes eye to Show a mean little face! He will try to hit his Mom because she told him no. He does this every time his parents tell him no. His parent’s don’t use any physical punishment! They have started putting him in time-out for 2 minutes and he screams! He’s a very intelligent child! I worry since depression and anxiety runs in our family. I worry that his anger is becoming unhealthy!


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