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 seizures:
Absence seizures can also happen with other kinds of seizures.
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.
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.
When an absence seizure ends, the person usually continues doing whatever they were doing before the seizure. They are almost always wide awake and able to think clearly. No first aid is needed because of the seizure.
It depends. People who have absence seizures may have them every now and then, or they can happen very often. Some people who have absence seizures have them more than 100 times a day.
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:
Doctors will usually order a test, called an EEG (electroencephalogram), to check the brain for electrical activity that can cause seizures. If they think someone may be having absence seizures, doctors might also ask the person to breathe very quickly. This will often trigger (cause) seizures in people who get them.
It’s very important that people who have absence seizures get the right diagnosis from a doctor, because absences seizures are often confused with other kinds of seizures — especially complex partial seizures.
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.
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:
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.
Calls to action/resource for getting help
If you’re wondering whether your child is daydreaming or having absence seizures, here are a few key differences to look for.
Thank you Epilepsy Foundation for providing the information.