October 26, 2020

What is Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy?

About Epilepsy

Learn about juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, the most common kind of generalized seizure. Find out about treatment and the outlook for this syndrome

Have you ever experienced a short, uncontrolled jerk in your body - almost like an electric shock? You may have had a myoclonic seizure. This kind of epilepsy often begins when people are children or in their teenage years and is called juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. 

What exactly is juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, what causes it, and how is it treated? 

What is juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is the most common kind of ‘generalized’ epilepsy syndrome among young people and it causes you to have myoclonic seizures (learn about the difference between generalized and focal seizures here). Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy usually starts in your teenage years (around 14-15 years old). 

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy often starts when you are a teenager


Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy symptoms

There are three main symptoms that come with this type of epilepsy:

  • Myoclonic seizures

You will experience a rapid jerking in your muscles like an electric shock. You often remain aware (conscious) of your surroundings and they usually only last for a second or two. You can normally carry on with what you were doing once the seizures finish. These seizures most often happen after you wake up. 

  • Tonic-clonic seizures

Many people with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy also have tonic-clonic seizures. This is when you lose consciousness, fall over and shake on the ground. 

  • Absence seizures

Some people will have absence seizures, which is when you appear to be awake but stare blankly into the distance. They usually only last a few seconds. 

What causes juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

Doctors are still not exactly sure what causes juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. However, they do know that it has a genetic cause (passed down through your family).

If you have this syndrome, there are certain triggers that make it more likely you will have a seizure:

  • Lack of sleep 
  • Stress
  • Drinking alcohol 

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy treatment and diagnosis

If you have juvenile myoclonic epilepsy symptoms, your doctor will:

  • Take a medical history to learn about your health and any history of epilepsy in your family
  • Do a juvenile myoclonic epilepsy EEG test, which can look for certain patterns of electrical activity in your brain that are typical of this syndrome

If you have juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, most people’s symptoms are controlled by taking anti-epilepsy medicine. Your doctor will ask you to take certain drugs and write down how often you have seizures. To make this easier, you can use Epsy to record each time you take your medication, when you have seizures and also note down any possible triggers. 

Because seizures are often triggered by lifestyle, your doctor might also advise you to think about different ways of behaving:

  • Making sure you sleep enough
  • Finding ways to relieve stress
  • Avoiding alcohol

What is the outlook?

While people with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy normally need to take anti-epilepsy medication for the long term, seizures do tend to become less frequent the older you get. You may be able to talk with your doctor about gradually taking less medication over time. 

While juvenile myoclonic epilepsy can be very frustrating, with the right treatment it won’t stop you leading the life you want - as we found out when we spoke with the amazing Megan Mejia who has lived with this syndrome since she was 13.