What’s it like to have an Absence Seizure?

Absence Seizure


What is an Absence Seizure?

An absence seizure causes a short period of “blanking out” or staring into space. Like other kinds of seizures, they are caused by abnormal activity in a person’s brain. You may also hear people call absence seizures petit mal (“PUH-tee mahl”) seizures, although that name is not common anymore.

There are two types of Absence Seizure:

  1. Simple absence seizures: During a simple absence seizure, a person usually just stares into space for less than 10 seconds. Because they happen so quickly, it’s very easy not to notice simple absence seizures or to confuse them with daydreaming or not paying attention.
  2. Complex absence seizures: During a complex absence seizure, a person will make some kind of movement in addition to staring into space. Movements may include blinking, chewing, or hand gestures. A complex absence seizure can last up to 20 seconds.

Symptoms of Absence Seizure

An indication of simple absence seizure is a vacant stare, which may be mistaken for a lapse in attention that lasts 10 to 15 seconds, without any subsequent confusion, headache or drowsiness. Signs and symptoms of absence seizures include:

  • Sudden stop in motion without falling
  • Lip smacking
  • Eyelid flutters
  • Chewing motions
  • Finger rubbing
  • Small movements of both hands

Absence seizures generally last 10 to 15 seconds, followed immediately by full recovery. Afterward, there’s no memory of the incident. Some people have dozens of episodes daily, which interfere with school or daily activities.

A child may have absence seizures for some time before an adult notices the seizures, because they’re so brief. A decline in a child’s learning ability may be the first sign of this disorder. Teachers may comment about a child’s inability to pay attention.

What Causes Absence Seizures?

Scientists are unsure of the underlying reasons for absence seizures; however, some research suggests that genetics may play a role.

Who’s at risk for Absence Seizure?

Absence seizures are most common in children ages 4 to 14. It’s also possible for older teens and adults to have absence seizures, but it’s less likely.

What’s it like to have an Absence Seizure?

When people have absence seizures, they are unaware of what’s going on around them. For example, they won’t notice if someone tries to talk to them. If they were saying something when the seizure started, they may stop talking in the middle of a sentence.

Some people have absence seizures for years before they know that anything’s wrong. Absence seizures are most likely to affect children, and it’s common for children not to pay attention for short periods of time for example, at school. In fact, the first clue a parent might have that a child is having absence seizures is that the child is having trouble in school.

Risk factors for Absence Seizure?

Certain factors are common to children who have absence seizures, including:

  • Age. Absence seizures are more common in children between the ages of 4 and 10.
  • Sex. In general, most seizures are more common in boys, but absence seizures are more common in girls.
  • History of febrile seizures. Infants and children who have seizures brought on by fever are at greater risk of absence seizures.
  • Family members who have seizures. Nearly half of children with absence seizures have a close relative who has seizures.

How can I tell if someone is having an Absence Seizure?

A lot of the time, you can’t. That’s the tricky thing about absence seizures: Often, they come and go so quickly that no one notices anything unusual and that includes the person who had the seizure! It’s very common for everyone to mistake absence seizures for daydreaming or not paying attention.

During a complex absence seizure, people may:

  • Blink over and over so it looks like they’re fluttering their eyelids
  • Smack their lips
  • Make chewing motions with their mouths
  • Rub their fingers together
  • Move their hands

Complications of Absence Seizure

While most children outgrow absence seizures, some:

  • Have seizures throughout life
  • Eventually have full convulsions, such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures

Other complications can include:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Behavior problems
  • Social isolation

How are Absence Seizures treated?

There are medicines that can help prevent absence seizures. And it’s also possible that absence seizures will go away on their own.

In fact, 7 out of 10 kids with absence seizures will stop having them by age 18. Children who start having absence seizures before age 9 are much more likely to outgrow them than children whose absence seizures start after age 10.

What should I do if I think my child may have Absence Seizures?

If you think your child may be having absence seizures, talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns right away.

Kids who have absence seizures aren’t usually in danger during a seizure. However, absence seizures may cause your child to:

  • Have trouble learning at school
  • Have social problems
  • Misbehave more often

Also, absence seizures may be confused with other types of seizures. That’s another reason why it’s so important that your child see a doctor for a correct diagnosis.