Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) is the most common form of idiopathic generalized epilepsy. Of all forms of epilepsies at least 10% are JME. Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy begins in late childhood and adolescence years. The prefix ‘juvenile’ signifies that first episode of symptoms are seen during childhood, however, JME is also prevalent in adults.

The disorder is characterized by involuntary jerks and twitches of muscles of single limb or the whole body. It may also include absence seizure (staring) attacks and generalized tonic –clonic (convulsive) seizures. JME occurs usually in early morning, after a nap or at night.

The exact cause of JME is not known, but sleep deprivation and alcohol intake exacerbates seizures in this condition.

Like any other forms of epilepsy, treatment with conventional anti-epileptic medicines is effective. Patient needs life- long therapy as discontinuation of medicine has high relapse rate. Home remedies are often used as complementary therapy to the conventional treatment.

Causes Of Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy

As with any other epileptic disorder, the exact etiology of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy is not known. However, there are many factors which are known to increase the risk of JME.

  • At least in one third of patients there is family history of epilepsy.
  • Children who are known to suffer from absence epilepsy in childhood are at greater risk of developing JME later on in their life.
  • JME is suspected to have genetic association, as there are many number of genes which have been indentified to increase the likelihood of juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

Seizures in this condition are known to be exacerbated by certain triggers. This includes:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Alcohol intake
  • 20 to 50 percent of JME patients have myoclonic jerks after observing flickering lights such as strobe lights at dance parties, reflection of sunlight in ocean waves or on snow. These seizures are also called photosensitive seizures.
  • Seizure in JME is also triggered due to excessive mental stress or emotional trauma or excitement.
  • Work which needs concentration can trigger a seizure in these patients. For example a child may have seizure while calculating a math problem.

Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Symptoms

Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy usually begins between the ages of 8 to 18, with the peak incidence at the age of 15. The condition is characterized by muscle (myoclonic) jerks in single part of body such as arm, hand, leg or it can be universal, meaning the entire body is affected. Myoclonic twitching occurs in one side of the body. There are three different types of seizures present in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

  • Myoclonic twitching and jerks that occur in legs, hands and or the arm of one side of the body. They are sudden and quick. Usually myoclonic twitching occurs soon after waking up in morning or during night or afternoon nap. The person describes as a shock like jerk in arm and leg. Sometimes twitching and jerks occur only in fingers and as a result he has tendency to drop things from his hands. Lack of sleep, stress, and alcohol intake trigger seizures of JME.
  • Myoclonic jerks can sometimes spread to entire body; these are generalized tonic and clonic seizures with convulsion and loss of consciousness.
  • Absence seizures accounts for 28 percent of JEM seizures. In this form of seizure the person simply stares or gazes for a short interval. This type of seizures are often overlooked and passed on as daydreaming. However, people with absence seizures are more likely to develop tonic clonic seizures later in life.

Treatment For Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy

Patients suffering from juvenile myoclonic epilepsy are neurologically normal. All patients suffering from epilepsy need treatment which in majority of cases is conventional anti-epileptic drugs. The frequency of seizures reduces as the child grows into adulthood but most patients require to be treated throughout their life with anti-epileptic medicines.

Along with anti-epileptic medicines as recommended by the doctor, certain home measures are essential to follow. As far as possible, patient has to avoid triggers such as quitting alcohol. Since stress and lack of sleep also play a role in JME, try to sleep for 7 to 8 hours. Stress management techniques such as meditation and yoga are effective to reduce the frequency.

But at the same time anti-epileptic medicines should not be discontinued as there is increased risk of relapse. Herbal teas such as chamomile tea help to clam the brain and induce sleep. It may act as complementary therapy to anti-epileptic medicines.

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