Absence Seizure

What is an Absence Seizure?

An absence seizure is not dramatic like the tonic-clonic variety. They can be typical or atypical. The typical variety generally appears between the ages of five and fifteen, and they usually cease before adulthood. However, some adults experience these types of seizures.

The atypical variety begins around six years of age. Absence seizures can be confused with daydreaming, but unlike episodes of simple inattentiveness, people do not immediately snap out of it when trying to gain their attention.

What are the Symptoms of an Absence Seizure?

Typical Absence Seizure

In a typical absence seizure the person does not twitch, fall, or convulse, hence the name of the condition.  Twitching facial muscles and fluttering eyelids may be noted by others at the onset. The person simply stops what they are doing for about ten to thirty seconds. During the seizure they typically stare while remaining unaware of people, activities, and surroundings. They suffer no ill effects and promptly resume their activities as if nothing unusual occurred.

Atypical Absence Seizure

The atypical variety may include slightly jerky movements of the lips, blinking, staring and at least partial awareness of surroundings. This type of absence seizure is far less common. Most also have existing neurological disorder and/or developmental delays. These seizures do not typically end with adulthood, and they can be hard to recognize in a child with an existing disorder.

Typical & Atypical

In both types, several seizures can consecutively occur, or they might just happen once in a 24-hour period. They may also happen many times throughout the day, even when physically active. They can result in:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Excessive behavioral problems
  • Social difficulties

Absence Seizure Causes

The brain is a complex organ, using both chemicals as well as electrical impulses to communicate. Epilepsy is basically a short in the wiring, causing momentary inability to govern that to which the wiring pertained. An absence seizure is a small part of epileptic seizures. It used to be called a “petit mal” seizure, or a momentary loss of consciousness without losing posture.

For example, when a person is in an absence seizure, the wiring in the brain goes on “repeat” until the person comes out of the seizure. The neurotransmitters, which send signals throughout the brain, are also affected. The effects may make it look as though these people are “zoning out”, but the sufferers aren’t under the influence of substances or suffering a mental breakdown.

While medical professionals don’t know the actual cause of the seizures, they are aware that children between the ages of six and 12 are affected most. They are also aware of the triggers of the seizures such as flashing lights and hyperventilation or rapid breathing. Medical professionals also think the condition might be genetic and passed down from generation to generation.

How is an Absence Seizure Treated?

Both typical and atypical absence seizures can be prevented with medication, and they often just stop occurring. Treatment during seizures is not required.

Absence Seizure Prevention

There is no way to prevent epileptic seizures, but there are things to be done to help control the situation.

Things to help the situation:

  • Take the prescribed medications on time and take the recommended dosage
  • Get plenty of sleep each night to give the brain time to rewire itself and bolster itself for the next day’s activity
  • Eating a healthy diet also strengthens the brain, giving it the nutrients it needs to work properly
  • Stress causes a lot of trouble in the body as well as the brain. Managing stress gives the brain time to do its work unimpeded
  • Regular exercise is important to the body for multiple reasons, but it’s also important for the brain and the chemicals it releases.
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Last Reviewed:
September 11, 2016
Last Updated:
October 30, 2017