Absence Seizure in Adults

Understanding absence seizure in adults

Epilepsy is a well-known condition and most people have heard of the illness. Despite this, many people aren’t really familiar with the nature of the condition and the effect it can have on people. As a disorder of the nervous system, epilepsy can manifest itself in different ways. While you might associate the condition with visible seizures, you may not be familiar with absence seizures in adults.

When abnormal electrical activity occurs in the brain, a seizure may occur. In some cases, this may cause a person to shake, fall to the floor or thrash their arms. However, an absence seizure in adults is very different and you may not even be aware that you’re witnessing it.

What is an absence seizure?

Also known as a petit mal seizure, an absence seizure in adults tends to be very brief. Generally lasting less than 15 seconds, the brief changes in brain activity may cause a person to ‘look blank’ or appear to be staring into space. In most cases, sufferers don’t tend to move much when experiencing an absence seizure, although they may blink their eyes or make slight chewing movements with their mouths.

As a seizure can be triggered by bright, flashing lights, these are often used by physicians when diagnosing the condition. By examining brain activity during an absence seizure, doctors can generally rule out other causes and confirm whether the patient is suffering from a form of epilepsy.

What happens after an absence seizure?

When a person experiences an absence seizure, they are unlikely to suffer any negative effects afterwards. While it might take them a few seconds to recognize where they are or remember what they were doing prior to the seizure, in most cases, the individual will be able to carry on with their normal routine.

While a sudden or unexpected seizure obviously warrants medical attention, an absence seizure in adults is often merely a symptom of an established condition, such as epilepsy. As the individual may experience an absence seizure on a regular basis, it’s highly likely that they will be unperturbed by the situation and merely continue with their day.

Can an absence seizure in adults be treated?

When you first become aware you’re experiencing absence seizures, your physician will perform a number of tests in order to ascertain the cause. If epilepsy is diagnosed, there are numerous medications which can be used to reduce seizures.

However, many people continue to experience absence seizures while being treated, so medication may not treat all elements of the condition.

Is an absence seizure dangerous?

In themselves, absence seizures aren’t thought to be particularly dangerous. There is no evidence to suggest they cause any type of brain damage and patients don’t tend to report any negative consequences after suffering a seizure. However, when experiencing an absence seizure, the individual may lose consciousness for 15 or even 20 seconds. During this time, they are unaware of their surroundings, which can obviously present dangers.

An absence seizure in adults, for example, may prevent them from getting a driver’s license as they will be unable to determine when they are about to lose awareness and could, therefore, be dangerous behind the wheel. Although someone with regular seizures may be unable to drive, patients who haven’t suffered an absence seizure in some time and who are controlling their condition with medication, may be able to obtain a license in some states.

Another concern is if someone falls or trips while experiencing a seizure, they could sustain injuries as a result. While the seizure itself may not cause harm, the loss of consciousness could certainly result in someone getting hurt. Due to this, many people with absence seizures are wary of visiting busy areas alone. If they are walking along the street alone, for example, they could wander into traffic if they are struck by a sudden absence seizure.

Can you prevent an absence seizure in adults?

Despite using medications to control the condition, it isn’t always possible to prevent seizures from occurring. Unfortunately, people can face discrimination or prejudice because of a condition such as epilepsy and this needs to be addressed by educating people and ensuring discriminatory practices are not tolerated.

While patients may become frustrated by the illness, for many people it has a very limited effect on their day-to-day lives. Fortunately, as people become more familiar with the condition, their confidence often grows and they find ways to carry out their routines safely, despite the possibility of an absence seizure occurring.

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Last Reviewed:
June 14, 2017
Last Updated:
October 11, 2017
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