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Neurologic examination of the newborn

Suresh Kotagal, MD
Section Editors
Joseph A Garcia-Prats, MD
Douglas R Nordli, Jr, MD
Deputy Editor
Melanie S Kim, MD


A comprehensive neurologic assessment should be performed in any newborn suspected to have central or peripheral nervous system dysfunction, either based upon history (eg, perinatal asphyxia) or a physical finding detected during the routine neonatal assessment (eg, a weak and immobile upper extremity). (See "Assessment of the newborn infant", section on 'Neurologic examination'.)

There are a number of publications that describe the newborn neurologic examination [1-15]. The discussion on the neonatal neurologic assessment presented here is based upon a review of the literature and the experience of the author. Other aspects of the routine assessment of the newborn are discussed separately. (See "Assessment of the newborn infant".)


The goals of the neurologic examination are to recognize emergent issues like status epilepticus, assist in localization of the disturbance, establish a diagnosis, and, to some extent, help in predicting the long-term outcome [16].

The following factors may alter the results of the neurologic examination and must therefore be taken into consideration:

Conceptional age (CA; ie, gestational age [GA] plus postnatal age) of the infant − The normal neurologic examination changes with maturation. In particular, passive tone and posture vary with GA and are used by the Ballard score to assign GA (figure 1 and table 1). (See "Postnatal assessment of gestational age", section on 'New Ballard score' and 'Passive tone/posture' below.)

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: May 31, 2016.
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