Atonic seizures are a type of generalized seizures in which the muscles suddenly become very loose and droop. Atonic means “without tone”, therefore in an atomic seizure the muscle loses its strength. Other names for atonic seizures include drop seizures and akinetic seizures. Although atonic seizures occur in all age groups, these seizures are most common in children. Atonic seizure are rare, affecting only about 1-3% of children with epilepsy.
During an atonic seizure, the person’s body will go limp. The body and head may slump over and the eyelids may drop, often causing the person to fall. The child normally remains conscious or loses consciousness only briefly. It is uncommon for the seizure to last longer than 15 seconds. After the seizure the child will be alert. These seizures can occur once or multiple times in a row. While the condition itself may not cause any harm, a person may become injured from falling down.
Seizures are a result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The exact cause of atonic seizures is unknown. It is fairly easy to diagnose an atomic seizure since it involves a person suddenly dropping and falling down. A test called electroencephalogram (EEG) may be used to confirm the diagnosis. AN EEG is able to record unusual electrical activity in the brain. There are several medications available to treat atonic seizures. A special diet or vagus nerve stimulation (sending mild pulses of electricity to the brain, similar to a heart pacemaker) may also be helpful. Surgery may be an option. In some cases, children may outgrow epilepsy, for others it is a lifelong condition. If your or your child has been diagnosed with atonic seizures, talk with your doctor about the most current treatment options. Support groups are also good resources for support and information.