Myoclonic Epilepsy


Epilepsy is a disorder that results in repeated seizures. An epileptic seizure is caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain.

There are many different types of epilepsy. Myoclonic epilepsy causes the muscles in the body to contract. This type of seizure causes quick jerking movements.

Myoclonic seizures often happen in everyday life. This includes hiccups and a sudden jerk while falling asleep. The condition is not epilepsy unless there are more than two seizures happening repeatedly over time.

Myoclonic epilepsy in children is known as:

When the condition continues to worsen it is known as progressive myoclonic epilepsy.


Myoclonic seizures generally affect:

  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Upper arms

Myoclonic seizures may not be noticed because they happen so quickly. Someone may think they are tics or clumsiness.

Symptoms of these seizures include:

  • Quick, uncontrolled muscle jerks
  • Jerky or rhythmic movements
  • Unusual clumsiness

Childhood myoclonic epilepsy conditions often progress to more severe seizures in adulthood.

Causes and Risk Factors

In most cases, there is no known cause of epilepsy. A family history of epilepsy may sometimes be a factor. However, experts are not sure how the disease is passed from parent to child.

Seizures can be linked to:

Unusual brain development


Making a correct epilepsy diagnosis is important. This will help guide the type of treatment used.

Routine lab tests may be used to rule out other medical conditions that might be causing the seizures. This may include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) to look for as infection, abnormal electrolyte levels (such as magnesium, potassium and calcium), kidney or liver function or genetic conditions.
  • A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) can rule out infections, such as spinal meningitis and encephalitis.
  • A toxicology screening can show poisons, illegal drugs or other toxins.

The most useful way to diagnose epilepsy is an electroencephalogram (EEG). This records electrical activity in the brain. The EEG can record unusual spikes or waves in electrical activity patterns. Different types of epilepsy can be identified with these patterns.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans may be used to look at the cause and the location within the brain. The scans can show scar tissue, tumors or structural problems in the brain.


For many patients, correct treatment can lower or prevent seizures. The most common treatment is anti-seizure medications. However, other treatment options are available.

The type of treatment used is based on:

  • The type of seizure
  • How often seizures happen
  • How severe the seizures are
  • The patient's age
  • The patient's overall health
  • The patient's medical history

Anti-seizure (or anti-epileptic) medications can be very helpful. It may take a few tries to find out the right drug and amount. The doctor will watch for side effects to find the best medication.

Surgery may be an option if medication can't control the seizures. A vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) is sometimes implanted and used with anti-epileptic medication to lower seizures. The VNS is a tool placed under the skin of the chest. It sends electrical energy through the vagus nerve into the neck and up to the brain.

Certain lifestyle changes may also be used:

  • Special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (ketogenic diet)
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Avoiding certain triggers, such as flickering lights

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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