The axial spasm--the predominant type of drop seizure in patients with secondary generalized epilepsy

Epilepsia. 1985 Sep-Oct;26(5):401-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1157.1985.tb05671.x.


In 45 patients suffering from secondary generalized epilepsy, we have recorded 239 drop seizures both by radio-telemetered EEG/split-screen video taping and polygraphically. Twenty of these patients had pure tonic drop seizures. Nine patients each had myoclonic-atonic or pure atonic seizures, whereas seven had slow falls that occurred during gradually developing tonic or akinetic seizures. We term the pure tonic drop seizure "axial spasm." It consists of a uniform pattern of movement lasting from 0.5 to 0.8 s and leading to a specific bearing characterized by a moderate flexion of the hips, the upper trunk, and the head. The arms are almost always involved being abducted, elevated and in a semiflexed position. A fall is provoked by the rapidity and violence of the flexion in the hips. The spasms can occur independently (pure axial spasm) or in connection with other seizure manifestations (combined axial spasm). In pure spasms, no disturbance of consciousness and no significant EEG changes--apart from a slight attentuation--are seen. In the combined axial spasms, distinct epileptic phenomena, in close connection with the axial spasms, can be observed, appearing either in the postspasm phase or in both the pre- and the afterphases. The prephase consists always of an absence and spike-and-wave activity. The onset of the spasm coincides with the last generalized spike, which is followed by a biphasic high-voltage slow wave. In the afterphases, various seizure patterns can be seen; quite characteristic are arrest states during which the patients are completely immobile and take up a postural-like or athetoid position. Almost as frequent are absences or absence-like states and tonic seizures. The afterphase can be compounded by two or three of these seizure patterns, the most common sequence of events in these cases being tonic--arrest state--absence. From the clinical and neurophysiological points of view, axial spasms can be regarded as a more mature form of infantile spasms. Clinical and experimental findings suppose a brainstem origin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electroencephalography
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Spasm / physiopathology*