Opisthotonos

Definition

Opisthotonos is a condition in which a person holds their body in an abnormal position. The person is usually rigid and arches their back, with their head thrown backward. If a person with opisthotonos lies on their back, only the back of their head and heels touch the surface they are on.

Considerations

Opisthotonos is much more common in infants and children than in adults. It is also more extreme in infants and children because of their less mature nervous systems.

Causes

Opisthotonos may occur in infants with meningitis. This is an infection of the meninges, the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Opisthotonos may also occur as a sign of reduced brain function or injury to the nervous system.

Other causes may include:

Some antipsychotic medicines can cause a side effect called acute dystonic reaction. Opisthotonos may be part of this reaction.

In rare cases, infants born to women who drink large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy may have opisthotonus due to alcohol withdrawal.

Home Care

A person who develops opisthotonos will need to be cared for in a hospital.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms of opisthotonos occur. Typically, opisthotonos is a symptom of other conditions that are serious enough for a person to seek medical attention.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

This condition will be evaluated in a hospital, and emergency measures may be taken.

The health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask about symptoms to look for the cause of opisthotonos

Questions may include:

The physical examination will include a complete checkup of the nervous system.

Tests may include:

Treatment will depend on the cause. For example, if meningitis is the cause, medicines may be given.


Review Date: 5/15/2017
Reviewed By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.