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Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy

What Is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy?

Kids with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) have one or more of several different kinds of seizures. These include absence seizures, myoclonic seizures, and generalized tonic-clonic seizures, which begin around the age of puberty.

Seizures may lessen in adulthood, but medicine may be needed for life.

What Do the Seizures in Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Look Like?

The types of seizures that can happen in JME and their symptoms are:

Absence seizure

  • starts suddenly in the middle of activity and ends abruptly
  • "blanking out" or staring spells that last about 5 to 20 seconds
  • eyes may flutter or look upward
  • child is unaware of what is going on during the seizure
  • after the seizure, child returns to normal activity and won't remember having the seizure

Myoclonic seizure

  • brief muscle twitches or jerks in the upper arms, shoulders, or neck
  • movements on both sides of the body at the same time
  • child usually is awake and can think clearly during and right after the seizure

Tonic-clonic seizure

  • convulsions, or rigid muscles and rhythmic body jerks
  • eyes rolling back
  • crying out
  • child may pee or poop
  • child can't respond during seizure
  • child is confused and sleepy after the seizure

Seizures in JME happen within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning or after a nap. They're more likely to happen when someone is tired or stressed.

What Causes Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy?

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is caused by genetic changes or mutations. Many children have a family member with JME, but not always.

How Is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Diagnosed?

JME is diagnosed by a pediatric neurologist (a doctor who specializes in brain, spine, and nervous system problems) based on signs and symptoms. That the seizures started around puberty is an important clue.

Testing may include:

  • EEG, or electroencephalography (to see brain waves/electrical activity in the brain)
  • VEEG, or video electroencephalography (EEG with video recording)
  • CAT scan and MRI to look inside the brain. This will be normal and is meant to rule out other causes.

How Is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Treated?

JME usually gets better with medicines. Your child may take one or more medicines, depending on the seizure types.

A few kids will have trouble getting their seizures controlled with medicines.

How Can I Help My Child?

Most kids with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy can lead a fairly normal life. To help your child, make sure he or she:

  • takes medicines as prescribed
  • avoids known seizure triggers, such as lack of sleep, flickering lights (video games, TV, strobe lights), antihistamine medicines (such as Benedryl), and too much stress

It's important to keep your child safe during a seizure. So make sure that other adults and caregivers (family members, babysitters, teachers, coaches, etc.) know what to do.

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is a lifelong condition. When it's time, help your child successfully transition into adult health care.

Date reviewed: August 2017

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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