Genital automatisms: Reappraisal of a remarkable but ignored symptom of focal seizures

Epilepsy Behav. 2018 Mar;80:84-89. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2017.12.023. Epub 2018 Feb 2.


Objectives: Genital automatisms (GAs) are uncommon clinical phenomena of focal seizures. They are defined as repeated fondling, grabbing, or scratching of the genitals. The aim of this study was to determine the lateralizing and localizing value and associated clinical characteristics of GAs.

Methods: Three hundred thirteen consecutive patients with drug-resistant seizures who were referred to our tertiary center for presurgical evaluation between 2009 and 2016 were investigated. The incidence of specific kinds of behavior, clinical semiology, associated symptoms/signs with corresponding ictal electroencephalography (EEG) findings, and their potential role in seizure localization and lateralization were evaluated.

Results: Fifteen (4.8%) of 313 patients had GAs. Genital automatisms were identified in 19 (16.4%) of a total 116 seizures. Genital automatisms were observed to occur more often in men than in women (M/F: 10/5). Nine of fifteen patients (60%) had temporal lobe epilepsy (right/left: 4/5) and three (20%) had frontal lobe epilepsy (right/left: 1/2), whereas the remaining two patients could not be classified. One patient was diagnosed as having Rasmussen encephalitis. Genital automatisms were ipsilateral to epileptic focus in 12 patients and contralateral in only one patient according to ictal-interictal EEG and neuroimaging findings. Epileptic focus could not be lateralized in the last 2 patients. Genital automatisms were associated with unilateral hand automatisms such as postictal nose wiping or manual automatisms in 13 (86.7%) of 15 and contralateral dystonia was seen in 6 patients. All patients had amnesia of the performance of GAs.

Conclusion: Genital automatisms are more frequent in seizures originating from the temporal lobe, and they can also be seen in frontal lobe seizures. Genital automatisms seem to have a high lateralizing value to the ipsilateral hemisphere and are mostly concordant with other unilateral hand automatisms. Men exhibit GAs more often than women.

Keywords: Drug-resistant epilepsy; Genital automatisms; Hand automatisms; Semiology.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amnesia / epidemiology
  • Automatism / diagnosis
  • Automatism / physiopathology*
  • Drug Resistant Epilepsy*
  • Dystonia / epidemiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsies, Partial / diagnosis
  • Epilepsies, Partial / drug therapy*
  • Epilepsies, Partial / physiopathology*
  • Epilepsy, Frontal Lobe / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe / surgery
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Genitalia / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Seizures / diagnosis*
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology
  • Turkey / epidemiology