Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy: What Are The Symptoms?

Epilepsy is a condition where electrical disturbances in the brain result in uncontrollable movements and behaviors. There are different types of epilepsy, with diagnosis depending on symptoms, cause, and patient type. 

One type of epilepsy is juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. 

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What is juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) is a type of epilepsy characterized by repetitive, twitching/jerking movements (myoclonic seizures). Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is sometimes called Epilepsy of Janz or Janz syndrome.¹

This type of epilepsy typically begins in adolescents around 12–18 and continues throughout their lifetime. Common JME symptoms include:

  • Quick muscle twitching

  • Uncontrolled jerky or rhythmic movements across the body 

Patients with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy can also experience other types of seizures, such as absence and tonic-clonic seizures. 

Different seizure types 

The symptoms you encounter with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy will depend on the type of seizure you experience. The types of seizures that can occur with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy include:

Myoclonic seizures

As the name of this condition might suggest, myoclonic seizures are the most likely seizure type that will occur in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. Myoclonic seizures cause sharp, jerky, and uncontrollable muscle movements. These movements can affect isolated muscle groups and wider areas of the body. 

As myoclonic seizures do not affect consciousness, you stay awake and aware while they occur. Myoclonic seizures tend to be brief and less debilitating than other seizure types. 

Absence seizures

Another type of seizure that can occur with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is absence seizures. Absence seizures cause you to “blank out,” which typically results in you staring into space for a few seconds.²

Absence seizures are more common in children and can disappear as they age. Caregivers may misattribute this type of seizure to a lack of attention, so they may go unnoticed. These are the typical signs of an absence seizure:

  • Suddenly stopping what you are doing

  • Fluttering eyelids

  • Lip smacking

  • Chewing

  • Small hand movements

  • Finger rubbing

Tonic-clonic seizures

Tonic-clonic or grand mal seizures are another seizure that can occur in patients with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. Tonic-clonic seizures cause symptoms that people typically associate with a seizure and can be frightening and overwhelming.³

You will lose consciousness when you experience a tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure. This makes you vulnerable to secondary injuries from a fall or other hazards. Typical symptoms of a tonic-clonic seizure include:

  • Rapid and intense jerking movements in the arms and legs

  • Crying or moaning

  • Face turning a bluish-gray

  • Urination or bowel movements 

Due to the intensity of symptoms, tonic-clonic seizures can take some time to recover from, and you may remain unconscious for a few minutes after the symptoms stop.⁴

Just like after all types of seizures, you may be disoriented, confused, and tired after a tonic-clonic seizure. It’s likely that you may not remember what happened before, during, and after the tonic-clonic seizure.⁵

Tonic-clonic seizures can be dangerous and leave you at risk of biting your tongue and hurting yourself on nearby objects. If you witness someone having a tonic-clonic seizure, ensure them:

  • Are lying on the floor and are away from furniture and other objects

  • Don’t have anything in their mouth⁶

Be sure to call emergency services if they are injured, the seizure has gone on for longer than five minutes, or if you are concerned for their wellbeing. After someone experiences their first tonic-clonic seizure, it’s best to talk to a health professional so they can advise a treatment plan. 

Triggers for juvenile myoclonic epilepsy

Many factors can trigger epileptic attacks in those with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The following are triggers that can bring about JME seizures:⁷

Lack of sleep 

Tiredness and a lack of sleep can have a powerful impact on seizure onset for people with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. If you’re experiencing sleep deprivation, you may be at higher risk of having an attack. 

Alcohol intake

Drinking alcohol can trigger seizures in JME. Because of this, it’s best to avoid alcohol. 

Stress and anxiety 

Emotional stress and anxiety can also contribute to the onset of seizures in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. 

Light exposure 

If you have juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, you may also experience photosensitivity, meaning that flashing lights, TV, computer screens, and sunlight can trigger seizures. Typically, if you’re photosensitive, your seizure symptoms will occur earlier in life than others. 

How do you get juvenile myoclonic epilepsy?

The reasons why you develop juvenile myoclonic epilepsy are complicated. JME is both idiopathic and hereditary: Roughly 50% will develop the condition spontaneously, while the other 50% will have a family history of the disorder.

Research has identified the genes responsible for JME: ICK, CACNB4, and GABRA1.⁸

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy occurs equally across males and females, although it may be slightly more common in females.


Diagnosis of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy typically begins with your family or loved ones noticing seizures. A doctor or specialist will take your medical history, do an exam, and order an EEG (electroencephalogram) to measure the electrical activity in your brain. 

The presence of myoclonic seizures is typically key for your doctor to diagnose juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, as this seizure type is a hallmark of the condition. 

Treatment options 

Doctors typically use medication to control seizures in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The type of medication you receive will depend on the type of seizures you experience. Medicines might include:

  • Valproic acid

  • Lamotrigine 

  • Levetiracetam

  • Topiramate 

  • Zonisamide 

  • Clonazepam 

Seizure prevention tips 

Lifestyle changes can help you reduce the frequency of seizures. To prevent seizures, it’s best to:

  • Avoid sleep deprivation

  • Not drink alcohol or consume street drugs

  • Reduce stress exposure

  • Avoid exposure to flashing or bright lights 

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy outlook 

The good news is that juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is relatively easy to control with anti-epileptic medication. In terms of long-term outcomes, a study followed up on participants with JME after 44.6 years. Researchers found 59.1% of patients remained seizure-free for at least five years before the last contact.⁹

It’s important to note that juvenile myoclonic epilepsy requires life-long treatment, even if seizures stop for a period. The chances of symptom relapse significantly increase if you stop taking medication for this condition.¹⁰

The lowdown 

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is a type of epilepsy affecting adolescents aged 12–18. This life-long condition typically results in you experiencing myoclonic seizures but can also include absence and tonic-clonic seizures. 

The symptoms and treatment of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy will vary depending on the type of seizures you experience. The long-term outlook is good as long as you take your prescribed medication and avoid triggers.

People also ask 

Does juvenile myoclonic epilepsy go away?

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is a lifelong condition, but with medication and seizure management techniques, you can go on to live a long and healthy life. 

Is juvenile myoclonic epilepsy life-threatening?

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy can be dangerous if you don’t control your seizures properly. However, people with this disorder often live normal lives with proper treatment and seizure management techniques.

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