Baby Jerking: A Teaching Video-Recorded Case of Febrile Myoclonus

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Video 1. Cluster of myoclonic jerks involving shoulders, upper and lower limbs, sometimes associated with axial retropulsion. The child appears frightened after each event. No apparent loss of consciousness occurs.

Authors:  Federico Mercolini, Fabiana Scarabel, Valentina Di Leo, Margherita Nosadini, Irene Toldo and Stefano Sartori

Article first published online:  14 JUL 2015 | DOI: 10.1002/mdc3.12203

Myoclonus was first described by Friedreich in 1881: It is a sudden, brief, shock-like involuntary movement caused by muscle contraction (positive myoclonus) or atonia (negative myoclonus), often called “jerk,” “shake,” or “spasm” by patients and inexpert observers.

Depending on the distribution, myoclonus can be focal, multifocal, segmental, or generalized. Myoclonic jerks can be isolated or in cluster, rhythmic or arrhythmic, occur at rest (spontaneous), be triggered by stimuli (reflex), or induced by voluntary movement (action).[1]

Marsden et al. first classified myoclonus in four categories on the base of clinical presentation and aetiology: physiological, essential, epileptic, and symptomatic myoclonus. Alternatively, neurophysiological features associated with the neuroanatomical source of myoclonus can be used to differentiate cortical, cortical-subcortical, subcortical-nonsegmental, segmental, and peripheral myoclonus.[1]

Febrile myoclonus (FM) was described for the first time in 1960,[2] but its importance has increased only in the recent decades.

FM is a benign disorder characterized by the appearance of myoclonic jerks during fever, with resolution of myoclonus upon defervescence. Sometimes, similar myoclonic jerks can occur also after an infectious event, and for these cases the more appropriate term of “parainfectious myoclonic jerks” has been introduced by Bathia et al.[3] and recently recovered by Delucchi et al.[4]

In most cases, FM occurs in the same age range as febrile seizures (6 months–6 years). Only a few cases of FM are reported in the literature.[5-8] All researchers agree that this condition is relatively frequent, but under-recognized.

We add a new case of FM to the pertinent literature and report, for the first time, on a video showing FM attacks in order to improve the knowledge about this disorder among child neurologists and pediatricians and facilitate its recognition.


Case Report

An 11-month-old boy was brought to our emergency room by his parents because of the abrupt appearance of sudden, brief body jerks occurring every 3 to 4 minutes throughout the previous hour. His family history was negative for movement disorders and seizures, and the child presented a normal neurological development and had no past history of neurological illness.

The child had a cold for the previous 2 days and a fever for the preceding 12 hours.

At admission, his body temperature was 39.6°C. The clinical and neurological examination was normal, except for upper airway inflammation. There were no signs of meningeal irritation.

During the observation, the child was sitting with extended lower limbs. Repetitive abrupt, brief jerks involving the four limbs were observed, with violent extension and sometimes abduction of the limbs, occasionally associated with axial retropulsion. Sometimes the jerks occurred in a cluster, with a bigger initial jerk, possibly more tonic, followed by close rhythmic jerks with fading intensity. There were no obvious triggers, such as sudden noises, or tactile or painful stimuli. If holding an object at the onset of an episode, the boy would fist his hand, whereas he would open and extend it if free, suggesting a prevalent proximal involvement. The child looked alert, but frightened, during the events, and cried afterward (see Video 1; written informed consent was obtained from the patient's parents for the publication of this video).

The child was admitted to the pediatric neurology department for further investigations. Routine blood tests revealed mild neutrophilic leukocytosis and the urine test was negative, suggesting an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI). During hospitalization, he experienced two other brief clusters of two to three jerks during wakefulness as well as during sleep, respectively, with a body temperature of 37.5°C and 38.6°C. After administration of ibuprofen, body temperature dropped and myoclonic jerks completely disappeared. A 24-hour video EEG monitoring performed subsequently showed normal background activity in wakefulness and sleep without any epileptic abnormalities and discharges. No episodes were recorded.

The URTI did not require antibiotic therapy, and the baby fully recovered within 2 days with antipyretics. He has remained well over a 24-month follow-up: No neurological deficits, seizures, or psychomotor developmental delay have been observed. Therefore, on the basis of published descriptions of similar fits in infancy,[2, 9] the diagnosis of FM was formulated.


The clinical picture of our patient shows significant similarities to previously reported cases of FM.[5-8]The analysis of the video that we provide will possibly help the diagnosis of FM be easier and more straightforward to make for clinicians.

Although the first 5 cases of myoclonus associated with fever were described in 1960,[2] only 25 patients have been reported in the English literature thus far, none with video documentation of the spells.[5-8] Most likely, FM occurs more frequently than reported, and, at presentation, its distinction from other conditions (such as Fejerman syndrome, epileptic spasms, epileptic myoclonus, or other symptomatic myoclonus[9, 10]) may be challenging for general pediatricians.

As far as our patient is concerned, the absence of a history suggestive of remote or recent brain injury, along with the normal neurological development and exam, make the diagnosis of symptomatic myoclonus extremely unlikely.[9] Moreover, the normal EEG background activity and the absence of photosensitivity, as well as jerks induced by tactile or acoustic stimuli, allow us to rule out also the diagnosis of epilepsy, such as benign myoclonic epilepsy of infancy and infantile spasms. Furthermore, the distinctive occurrence of myoclonic jerks only during fever makes the diagnosis of benign myoclonus of early infancy (Fejerman syndrome),[9] shaking body attacks, or other paroxysmal nonepileptic phenomena[11] unlikely; indeed, these conditions share some clinical aspects with FM, but have not been related to fever.

The clinical features of FM may be summarized as follows: (1) sudden onset of generalized/segmental myoclonus; (2) presence of fever; (3) presentation between 6 months and 6 years of age; (4) nonprogressive course and absence of other additional signs or symptoms; (5) absence of possible causes for secondary myoclonus (hypoxia, metabolic disorders, drug intoxication, storage disease, or neurodegenerative disorders); (6) absence of central nervous system infection; and (7) recovery with cessation of the febrile event in a child with otherwise normal neurological development and physical examination.

Even though the etiopathogenesis remains unknown,[5, 8] the febrile myoclonic jerks in these children do not seem to be related to cortical epileptic discharges.[5, 12] Some researchers suggest a brainstem origin of myoclonus.[7]

The diagnosis is based on careful clinical evaluation. Extensive investigations, such as brain MRI and lumbar puncture, are not necessary for this diagnosis; video EEG polygraphy recordings can be useful to show normal background activity and rule out the epileptic nature of the jerks; benign long-term outcome offers further support to the diagnosis of FM. No therapy is required.

By publishing, for the first time, a suggestive video recording of FM, we draw attention to the importance of increasing the knowledge about this disorder among child neurologists and pediatricians, in order to facilitate its recognition, avoiding misdiagnosis and unwarranted treatment as well as allowing reassurance of parents and caregivers.


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Recent Comments

My son was like this from day 1

My son, born in '97, had jerking movements from birth. The nurses wrote that he was "jittery" and kept him in observation overnight. For years he would 'startle' all night (often crying out in his sleep each time his whole body would jerk) and these episodes could last anywhere from 24 - 72hrs, through waking hours and sleep. Though they are benign and cause no damage to the brain, by school age he could not attend school while suffering these episodes. No one could offer him any help and we were told not to worry about it, yet it disrupted his life for the days they occurred. They don't appear very often anymore, thankfully. My son has Aspergers Syndrome, ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder, in case that's of any interest to others reading this.

Febrile myoclonus

To whom it may concern,

I am a pediatric neurology resident in Israel. My 9 m/o baby had very alike episode this night. I have a video and would be glad to send you for your interpretation, and maybe use as a learning video for other parents.

Thank you, very helpful

We have been experiencing the exact same symptoms with our 9 month old little boy. We were rushed to the hospital in an ambulance the first time these sudden bursts of jerking were happening. They suggested to us he had an URTI at the hospital and that there wasn’t anything to worry about and sent us home. The second morning of jerking I was so concerned I took him back to the hospital. This time he was confirmed to have Influenza A. They also did an EEG and found he was displaying normal brain activity and no signs of infantile spasms.

Acetaminophen would not bring down his temperature and would not stop the jerking. Every time he was dosed with ibuprofen his temp would come down and the jerking would stop. They called these myoclonic jerks and everything described in this article is exactly like my little boy and really reassured me as I was reading it.

We are now on to our 4th consecutive day of high temps and myoclonic jerking. Hopefully it will soon pass once he gets over flu.

Thankyou, very helpful

My son is almost exactly as this study describes. He is 8 months old, woke with a fever about 20 hours ago, he awoke at 1am this morning so hot and shivering so I stripped him off down to his nappy and gave him some ibuprofen. 1.5 hours later he was trying to go back to sleep and jerked himself awake and was really scared. He jerked a few more times, each time he got scared and started to cry. I googled febrile convulsions as my friend’s son had that when he was little but it didn’t seem right. I came across this article and I was really reassured. I was worried he had gotten low on oxygen while he’d been ill and got brain damage, but it seems harmless and he’s still alert when awake.


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