What are absence seizures?
Absence seizures are a type of epilepsy. This is a condition that causes seizures.
Seizures are caused by abnormal brain activity. These mixed messages confuse your brain
and cause a seizure. 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 usually don’t cause any long-term problems. These types of
seizures are often set off by a period of very fast breathing (hyperventilation).
Absence seizures usually occur in children between ages 4 and 14. A child may have 10,
50, or even 100 absence seizures in a given day, and you may not notice them. Most
children who have typical absence seizures are otherwise normal. But absence seizures
can get in the way of learning and affect concentration at school. This is why prompt
treatment is important.
everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy. Usually a diagnosis of epilepsy can be made
after 2 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 to make the right diagnosis.
This is important for effective and safe treatment of your seizures.
uncommon for absence seizures to continue into adulthood. But it’s possible to have an
absence seizure at any age.
What causes absence seizures?
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 last less than
15 seconds. It’s rare for an absence seizure to last longer than 15 minutes. They can
happen suddenly without any warning signs. Some hereditary conditions may increase the
risk for absence seizures.
What are the symptoms of absence seizures?
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:
- Being very still
- Smacking the lips or making a chewing motion with the mouth
- Fluttering the eyelids
- Stopping activity such as suddenly not talking or moving
- Suddenly returning to activity when the seizure ends
you have jerking motions, it may be a sign of another type of seizure taking place along
with the absence seizure.
How are absence seizures diagnosed?
may have absence seizures for years before seeing a doctor for a diagnosis. You may have
“staring spells” without thinking of them as a health problem or a seizure.
electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test most often used to diagnose absence seizures. This
test records the brain’s electrical activity. It spots any problems that might mean an
absence seizure. Sometimes the EEG is recorded over several days (long-term EEG). It may
include video at the same time.
These tests also can help to diagnose absence seizures or rule out other conditions:
- Blood tests
- Tests of the kidneys and liver
- CT or MRI scans
- Spinal tap to test the cerebrospinal fluid
How are absence seizures treated?
Absence seizures can affect your ability to do your job or go to school, so it’s a good
idea to see your healthcare provider about treatment.
Absence seizures can be treated with a number of different medicines. The type of
medicine that your healthcare provider recommends 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 several medicines.
Can absence seizures be prevented?
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:
- Get plenty of sleep each night.
- Find ways to manage your stress.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
Living with absence seizures
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:
- Behavioral and emotional issues. It is important to get enough sleep and manage stress when you have epilepsy. Stress and lack of sleep can trigger seizures. If you have trouble sleeping, talk with your healthcare provider about how to make sure you get enough sleep. Learn coping techniques that will help you manage stress and anxiety.
- Employment. With proper treatment, people with epilepsy can do just about
any job safely and well. But certain jobs with a high risk to public safety may not
be an option. Epilepsy is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law
prohibits discrimination against people with epilepsy and other disabilities.
- Coping with
discrimination and stigma. Children and adults with epilepsy may face
discrimination. They struggle to overcome the stigma linked to this condition. Teach
your family, friends, co-workers, and classmates about your condition. Let them know
what to expect and how to help during a seizure.
- Education. Children with epilepsy may be entitled to special services under
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Work closely with your
child’s teacher and school nurse to help manage epilepsy at school. It’s important
for parents of children with epilepsy to balance safety and fun. Let your child to
have some age-appropriate independence and participate in sports and other activities
at school, when possible.
- Driving. Each state has different driving laws for people with epilepsy. Licensing may depend on how severe seizures are and how well they are controlled. Consider public transportation where it is available. If you continue to have absence seizures, it may not be safe for you to drive.
- Support and
online resources. You may feel alone in dealing with day-to-day life with
epilepsy, but know that many people have epilepsy. You can find local support groups
through your healthcare provider or local hospital. Many online resources give tools
and tips for managing this condition. Online social media support groups bring
together people from all over the world who are managing their epilepsy. These groups
provide support and encouragement.
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.
Key points about absence seizures
seizures are seizures that generally last just a few seconds. You may have a blank or
seizures usually occur in children between ages 4 and 14, but it’s possible to have
an absence seizure at any age.
seizures are easy to miss, but tests and an assessment of symptoms can diagnose
- Healthcare providers can usually help find the right mix of medicines and lifestyle
changes to manage absence seizures.
treatment, school, work, and relationships can be affected.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Anne Fetterman RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer:
Joseph Campellone MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed:
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