Repetitive Movements of Epilepsy

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2021

Abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is a brain (neurological) disease.

Seizures can affect any process the brain manages. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including repetitive motions. If someone is in the middle of a movement, they may repeat this over and over during a seizure. Or, they may begin a new movement. These movements may be:1,2

  • Hand-clapping, hand wringing, or waving
  • Lip-smacking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Fidgeting
  • Dressing or undressing
  • Reaching for or grasping something

Sometimes, the person is not fully conscious during these seizures. Most last a few seconds to a few minutes. If the seizure is mild, other people may not notice.3

Afterward, the person may be tired or confused. It can take minutes to hours to return to normal.3

Types of repetitive movements

People with certain types of seizures will repeat movements during their seizures. These repeated motions with no purpose are also called automatisms. Examples include lip-smacking, hand-wringing, or dressing and undressing.3

People may also continue purposeful movements during a seizure, such as typing or driving.

What causes this?

Repeated movements are caused by a focal seizure. Abnormal electrical activity that takes place in a small, specific part of the brain causes focal seizures. Focal impaired awareness seizures usually cause repeated movements. An older name for these seizures was "complex partial seizures." An even older name was "psychomotor seizures."2

Repeated movements are common with temporal lobe seizures and frontal lobe seizures. The temporal lobe is located behind the ears on either side of the head. The frontal lobe is located directly behind the forehead.

How are these seizures treated?

How focal seizures are treated varies from person to person. There are 3 goals in treating all epilepsy: controlling seizures, avoiding side effects, and improving quality of life. Treatments may include:4

  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Surgery
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Supportive devices such as a smartwatch
  • An epilepsy service dog

It is also important to keep a seizure journal. It can also be helpful for loved ones to make videos of events when they occur. This record of when seizures happen, what seems to trigger them, and what they look like will help your doctor tailor your treatment plan.

Doctors believe 7 out of 10 people with epilepsy can become seizure-free with treatment. Some people can eventually stop taking anti-seizure medicines.5

Repetitive movements are just 1 possible symptom of epilepsy. Other potential signs of epilepsy include:

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