An absence seizure causes you to blank out or stare into space for a few seconds. They can also be called petit mal seizures. Absence seizures are most common in children and typically don’t cause any long-term problems. These types of seizures are often set off by a period of hyperventilation.
Absence seizures usually occur in children between ages 4 to 14. A child may have 10, 50, or even 100 absence seizures in a given day and they may go unnoticed. Most children who have typical absence seizures are otherwise normal. However, absence seizures can get in the way of learning and affect concentration at school. This is why prompt treatment is important.
Absence seizures are a type of epilepsy, a condition that causes seizures. Seizures are caused by abnormal brain activity. These mixed messages confuse your brain and cause a seizure.
Not everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy. Usually, a diagnosis of epilepsy can be made after two or more seizures.
Absence seizures often occur along with other types of seizures that cause muscle jerking, twitching, and shaking. Absence seizures may be confused with other types of seizures. Doctors will pay close attention to your symptoms in order to make the right diagnosis. This is very important for effective and safe treatment of your seizures.
It’s uncommon for absence seizures to continue into adulthood, but it’s possible to have an absence seizure at any age.
Like other kinds of seizures, absence seizures are caused by abnormal activity in a person’s brain. Doctors often don’t know why this happens. Most absence seizures are less than 15 seconds long. It’s rare for an absence seizure to last longer than 15 minutes. They can happen suddenly without any warning signs.
The easiest way to spot an absence seizure is to look for a blank stare that lasts for a few seconds. People in the midst of having an absence seizure don’t speak, listen, or appear to understand. An absence seizure doesn’t typically cause you to fall down. You could be in the middle of making dinner, walking across the room, or typing an e-mail when you have the seizure. Then suddenly you snap out of it and continue as you were before the seizure.
These are other possible symptoms of an absence seizure:
If you experience jerking motions, it may be a sign of another type of seizure taking place along with the absence seizure.
You may have absence seizures repeatedly for years before heading to the doctor for a diagnosis. You may have “staring spells” without thinking of them as a medical problem or a seizure.
An EEG is a test most often used to diagnose absence seizures. This test records the brain’s electrical activity and spots any abnormalities that could indicate an absence seizure.
These tests also can help to diagnose absence seizures or rule out other conditions:
Absence seizures can affect your ability to perform at work or school, so it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider about treatment.
Absence seizures can be treated with a number of different antiseizure medicines. The type of medicine that your healthcare provider recommends you take will also depend on what other seizure disorder you may have. If you have more than one type of seizure disorder, you may need to take multiple medicines.
Taking your medicines exactly as your doctor prescribed is one of the best ways to manage absence seizures. But you can also make some changes in your life to help prevent absence seizures from happening. These include:
Most people with epilepsy live full and active lives with medicine and other lifestyle changes. But it can be challenging at times to manage large and small life events when you have epilepsy. Depending on your age and the severity and type of epilepsy, you may need support with the following:
If you have trouble managing your absence seizures, you may want to work more closely with your healthcare provider to find a better way to treat them.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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