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What Is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy?

Kids with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy have myoclonic seizures that usually begin during the teen years. They may also have absence seizures and generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

Seizures may happen less often in adulthood, but medicine will likely be needed for life.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Juvenile Myoclonic Seizure?

Different types of seizures can happen in juvenile myoclonic (my-uh-KLON-ik) epilepsy. The types and their symptoms are:

Myoclonic Seizures

This kind of seizure is the most common type in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, and is the hallmark of this condition. In a myoclonic seizure, a child:

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

Absence Seizures

An absence seizure starts suddenly in the middle of activity and ends abruptly. During the seizure, a child:

  • blanks out or has staring spells that last 5–20 seconds
  • may flutter their eyes or look upward
  • is unaware of what is going on during the seizure
  • returns to normal activity and won't remember having the seizure after it’s over
  • has lip-smacking, chewing movements, or fumbling movements in their hand(s)

Tonic-Clonic Seizures

In this type of seizure, a child:

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

Seizures in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy typically happen within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning or after a nap. They're more likely to happen when someone is tired, stressed, or didn't get enough sleep.

What Causes Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy?

The cause of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy isn't known, but it tends to run in families. Genetic changes (mutations) have been associated with the condition.

How Is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Diagnosed?

If your child had a seizure, the doctor probably will want you to see a pediatric neurologist (a doctor who treats brain, spine, and nervous system problems). The neurologist will ask questions about what happened during the seizure, do an exam, and order an EEG to measure brain wave activity.

How Is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Treated?

Seizures are usually well-controlled with medicine, which many people will need to take for life. If they’re not, doctors have other treatments to try.

How Can Parents Help?

To help your child live better with epilepsy, be sure they follow the neurologist’s recommendations about:

  • taking any medicines
  • avoiding triggers (such as excessive stress, lack of sleep, blinking lights, drinking alcohol, some types of medicines)
  • taking precautions while swimming or bathing
  • whether it’s OK for your teen to drive
  • whether your child should wear a medical ID bracelet

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

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is a lifelong condition. But many kids go on to live a normal life with a few extra steps taken to keep them safe. When it's time, help your child successfully move to adult health care.

What Else Should I Know?

If your child has epilepsy, reassure them that they’re not alone. Your doctor and the care team can answer questions and offer support. They also might be able to recommend a local support group. Online organizations can help too, such as:

Medically reviewed by: Lily Tran, MD and Andrew I. Mower, MD
Date reviewed: February 2022