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Developmental Conditions

Congenital Hypotonia

What is Congenital Hypotonia?

Congenital hypotonia is a medical term used to refer to poor muscle tone that’s present at birth (congenital). Depending on the underlying cause, hypotonia can appear at any age. It’s not a disease but a sign of an underlying problem.

What causes Congenital Hypotonia?

Causes include central nervous system and muscle disorders. Sometimes, the cause can’t be determined. Signs and symptoms of hypotonia include:

  • Floppy appearance
  • Significant weakness
  • Little or no head control
  • Hypotonia doesn’t affect intelligence. But it may delay development of large-muscle movement and coordination (gross motor skills).

Some children are born with hypotonia that isn’t related to a separate condition. This is called benign congenital hypotonia. A specialist at OTFC Group can assist with physical, occupational, and speech therapy to help your child gain muscle tone and stay on track with development.

How Congenital Hypotonia Affects Children?

Typical symptoms include general weakness and flaccidity of the muscles (reduced strength and endurance). Depending on the underlying disease, different sets of muscles may be involved. In infants, hypotonia often results in:

  • Poor suckling (and chewing)
  • Inability to lift the head, rolling instead of crawling
  • Weak cry
  • Physical passivity
  • The child feels like a sack of jelly when you pick it up – he or she wants to slide out of your hands
  • When the mouth muscles are involved, drooling and speech difficulties can occur in children.
  • Hypermobility of joints (how far back can you bend your fingers?). Hypotonic children often find it comfortable to sit in the “W” position and other painful or contortionist looking postures.
  • Poor reflexes
  • Delayed physical milestones (“Developmental Delay”)
  • Constipation for those whose bowel muscles are affected
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Medical problems associated with Congenital Hypotonia

The outcome in any particular case depends largely on the nature of the underlying disease. Typically, the hypotonia does not get much worse, and sometimes improves. Usually, life expectancy is not seriously threatened. Hypotonia does not intrinsically affect intelligence, though a number of underlying diseases may have adverse effects on one or more aspects of cognition.

Prenatal screening and diagnosis

Hypotonia may be diagnosed at birth. In some cases, however, you may not notice your child’s condition until they’re older. An indicator is that your child isn’t meeting developmental milestones. Schedule regular appointments for your child with a doctor. Be sure to mention any concerns you have about your child’s progress. Your doctor will assess your child’s development and run tests if they have concerns. Tests may include blood tests and MRI and CT scans.

If you notice sudden signs of the condition in a person of any age, seek emergency medical care.

Getting help with Congenital Hypotonia

There is currently no known treatment or cure for most (or perhaps all) causes of BCH. Physical, occupational, and speech therapies are often recommended and used, with very good results.

Physical therapy is used to improve fine motor control and overall body strength, whilst occupation and speech-language therapy to help with breathing, speech and swallowing difficulties. Ankle/foot orthoses are sometimes used for weak ankle muscles.

Hypotonic, passive babies may need extra stimulation. Toddlers and children with speech difficulties may benefit greatly by using sign language within the family until speech has become intelligible by the family.

Parents of a child with BCH cope with many stresses. Their lives change immediately with the birth of the child. The child does not develop at the same rate as his peers. Parents may not recognize or may deny that there is a problem with their child.

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