Scoliosis is a disease affecting the spines of infants, children, adolescents and adults. As the condition progresses, scoliosis causes a gradual curvature of the spine, which can potentially become life-threatening. While the onset of scoliosis most often occurs in those aged 10 and older, scoliosis can also be diagnosed at birth. While scoliosis in infants can be problematic, it also a condition that is highly treatable in the majority of cases.
Scoliosis in babies is typically classified as either infantile or congenital, depending on the type of spinal abnormality present. Infantile scoliosis presents itself as a lateral curvature of the spine in children younger than three years of age. Infantile scoliosis is rare, representing less than 1 percent of cases of scoliosis in babies. Congenital scoliosis is a spinal deformity caused by improperly formed vertebrae, which typically occurs in the sixth week of fetal development.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
While infantile or congenital scoliosis may be diagnosed at birth, symptoms do not typically present until around six months of age. Infantile scoliosis most often presents itself as an S- or C-shaped curvature of the spine. This condition affects boys more often than girls, and often resolves on its own. You or your physician may notice that your baby's body leans in one direction or one shoulder appears higher than normal. Once symptoms present, your physician may conduct an extensive physical exam, administer a spinal MRI and take x-rays in order to rule out other spinal conditions.
Currently, the causes of both infantile and congenital scoliosis are unknown. According to Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, one theory suggests that pressure exerted by the uterine walls may cause improper growth of the spine in some fetuses. A second theory is related to babies being positioned on their backs for long periods of time. A third theory centers on genetic factors. However, the Scoliosis Research Society suggests that no definitive evidence has been presented to support this idea.
If your baby is diagnosed with scoliosis, your treatment options will depend on the severity of the curvature. According to the Scoliosis Research Society, curvatures of less than 25 degrees are typically treated through observation and routine measurement to determine if the curve is worsening. Infants with more severe curves may be fitted for a cast or brace, which can help to slow the progress of the curvature over time. If these methods are ineffective, surgery may be required to fuse the vertebrae or install rods that are designed to straighten the curvature.
If you suspect your infant is showing symptoms of scoliosis, it's important to have her evaluated by a physician as soon as possible. While the Scoliosis Research Society notes that the majority of infantile curvatures correct themselves, failure to treat scoliosis can result in significant spinal deformities. A progressive curvature of the spine can exert pressure on the lungs, heart and other internal organs and in extreme cases may result in death.