Epilepsy Institute of NC info@eiofnc.org 336-659-8202


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:

  • Simple absence seizures: During a simple absence seizure, a person usually just stares into space for less than 10 seconds. Because they happen so quickly, it’s very easy not to notice simple absence seizures — or to confuse them with daydreaming or not paying attention.
  • Complex absence seizures: During a complex absence seizure, a person will make some kind of movement in addition to staring into space. Movements may include blinking, chewing, or hand gestures. A complex absence seizure can last up to 20 seconds.

Absence seizures can also happen with other kinds of seizures.

Absence seizures are so brief that they frequently escape detection.

Who’s at risk for absence 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.

What’s it like to have an absence seizure?

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.

What happens after an absence seizure?

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.

If someone has absence seizures, how often will they happen?

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.

How can I tell if someone is having an absence seizure?

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:

  • Blink over and over so it looks like they’re fluttering their eyelids
  • Smack their lips
  • Make chewing motions with their mouths
  • Rub their fingers together
  • Move their hands

How are absence seizures diagnosed?

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.

How are absence seizures treated?

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.

What should I do if I think my child may have absence seizures?

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:

  • Have trouble learning at school
  • Have social problems
  • Misbehave more often

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

Absence seizures or daydreaming?

If you’re wondering whether your child is daydreaming or having absence seizures, here are a few key differences to look for.


  • Is likely to happen when your child is bored (like during a long class period at school)
  • Usually comes on slowly, with warning (your child may go from paying attention, to a little bit “spacey,” to daydreaming)
  • Can be interrupted
  • Tends to continue until something stops it (like the teacher getting your child’s attention)

Absence seizures:

  • Can happen anytime, including during physical activity
  • Usually come on very suddenly, without warning
  • Can’t be interrupted
  • End on their own within 20 seconds

4 http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000696.htm

Thank you Epilepsy Foundation for providing the information.


We all hear Harrison Ford’s name and the first thing that comes to mind is STAR WARS and Han Solo.  Everyone knows him as a hero on the big screen.  His family, especially his daughter, love him more than just a hero.  Harrison Ford’s daughter has epilepsy.  He just revealed this about her, but has been giving to NYU Langone Center.  Harrison Ford is the director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.

Georgia, Harrison Ford’s daughter, had multiple seizures before being diagnosed by Dr. Orrin Devinsky.  Finally being diagnosed was a blessing after being scared many times with seizures.  Harrison Ford told the New York daily News,  “When you have a loved oStar-Wars-Han-Solo-Jacket-900x900ne who suffers from this disease, it can be devastating.  You know how it affects their lives, their future, their opportunities and you want desperately to find mitigation.  You want to find a way that they can live a comfortable and effective life.”

To help raise money for epilepsy and NYU Langone Center and FACES (Finding A Cure for Epilepsy and Seizures), Harrison Ford will be giving the jacket he wore as Han Solo in Star Wars:The Force Awakens to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.  The bidding started at $18,000 on IfOnly. (https://www.ifonly.com/entertainment/product/7076/iconic-star-wars-memorabilia-han-solo-leather-jacket-autographed-by-harrison-ford).  It is now at $61,000 with 6 days left to bid for the jacket.

A true hero off the screen raising money and awareness for EPILEPSY.


Purple is something other that a favorite color.  Just like pink stands for breast cancer awareness.  Purple stands for epilepsy awareness. March 26th was WORLDWIDE EPILEPSY EPILEPSY AWARENESS DAY.

Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia, Cassidy was more than just a little girl.  She had epilepsy and wanted everyone to know what epilepsy is exactly.  To spread awareness, Cassidy thought of PURPLE DAY!  In 2008 The Nova Scotia Epilepsy Foundation helped Cassidy develop her idea.  March 26 is now known as the PURPLE DAY for epilepsy campaign!

After 2008 with Nova Scotia having PURPLE DAY, Anita Kaufman Foundation in New York joined the Nova Scotia Epilepsy Foundation to start PURPLE DAY internationally.  March 26,2009 multiple foundations, organizations, schools, and POLITICIANS celebrated PURPLE DAY.  cassidy4

Since then it has become WORLDWIDE.  You can find more information, including Cassidy’s blog here, http://www.purpleday.org/aboutus.

Just look online typing purple day or worldwide epilepsy day, and you will find more information how they are celebrated all throughout the world or in your city.  Looking online any day typing epilepsy, you can get general information that can answer any question you have.  That way when you meet someone with epilepsy you will not be afraid to start a conversation, or help them after if they have a seizure.

The next time to celebrate awareness is November!  The whole month of November is EPILEPSY AWARENESS MONTH!!  Please be prepared to wear purple or make a purple ribbon to wear.  You should also understand everything there is to know about epilepsy between now and November.

Thank you everyone for all the hard work that was done for PURPLE DAY!




The occupation I chose before my epilepsy (complex partial petit mals) started was Ultrasound.  The job included overtime, carrying a beeper, and knowing you were going to be called back sometime during the night. Anyone who has seizures knows that you don’t drive.  Driving was part of the job description.

Living thirty minutes away from your job was hard.  Having someone drop you off and pick you up around their schedule and not yours.  It got hard watching people leave work before you, when you punched out before them.  Your ride was caught in traffic or had to work overtime.  Oh, they also had to drive me back to work when I was on call.  Finally after fighting with doctors notes and telling them to move me to another department, they said ok to no overnight call.  BUT, I had new hours.  I had to work a new second shift.  That got old.  I had no time with my daughter.

Finally I found another job.  I was still doing ultrasound.  No matter what, I told the supervisor about my epilepsy.  I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot not wanting to take call.  “No problem,” he said,  “You won’t be taking call for a while if any because you will be learning new protocol, and the other employees like the extra money.”

After six years there I had to work extra hours on Saturdays.  This was to make up for no overnight call.  Finally, I found a job posted for weekends!  There were no nights, no call, just days!  The schedule was twelve hours on Friday, twelve hours on Saturday, and twelve hours on Sunday!  I even got paid for forty hours.  Finally I wouldn’t have to worry about telling the supervisor that I had epilepsy.

Little did I know that I would have to work a night shift and also be on call to come in if someone called in sick!  WAIT, this was not on the job description!  Now I had to tell the supervisor about my epilepsy. Human Resources and Employee Health knew about it.  I didn’t tell her because I didn’t have to work nights.

BOY WAS SHE MAD!!  My life at work turned into hell.  After she found out, she broke the rules.  She told my coworker about my epilepsy!  I was next door and heard it all!  Did she not understand the EEO and the ADA?  She only got wrote up!!  After a few weeks of finding anything that they could fire me for, they did.  The only bad thing about NC, is it is a right to fire state.

I can thank her now.  I used to talk to patients about epilepsy.  Now, I talk to as many people that read this or follow me.

We’ve come a long way, but there is still further to go.  I didn’t know my supervisor would be ignorant.


Dr. Dean is the co-founder and current Director of Epilepsy Institute of North Carolina since 1991.  She completed an MS degree in biochemistry at the University of Pittsburgh before attending medical school, and completed neurology residency at Bowman Gray School of Medicine and University of New Mexico.  She has a four-year fellowship in epilepsy at Bowman Gray School of Medicine and has enjoyed helping patients over 20 years through the unique blend of studying brain mechanisms through behavioral health sciences and neurological sciences at Epilepsy Institute, which she has fostered and encouraged in the community of Winston-Salem.  She has been recognized for contributions to her field locally and is a member of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the Academy of Neurology, as well as the American Medical Association and the North Carolina Medical Society. She has a strong commitment to care of the developmentally delayed, children and adults with epilepsy, new onset epilepsy, and long-term care of patients with epilepsy, as well as understanding brain mechanisms in these types of patients.

Not only doedressed dogss it take a brain to become a physician, but it takes a heart of gold to become a doctor where you as a patient put your mind into a neurologist’s hands.   Dr. Dean has a heart of Gold.  She travels throughout the week to the offices in NC for patient’s appointments.  Working as a nonprofit physician, Dr. Dean helps people get care that mo
st of the time can not be afforded due to the cost of medical procedures and prescription drug prices.

Other than a love for helping people with epilepsy, Dr.Dean loves dogs!  She helps dogs with epilepsy.  Every year there is a Dog Show.  A large group of  Great Pyrenees dog lovers get together along with other breeds rescued.  Take a look at the mick and min dogswebsite for information about the office and activities.


What is “atonic”? Atonic means without tone. Normal tension in a muscle is tone.  In atonic seizures, a person’s head may nod, they may drop what they are holding, their muscles suddenly lose strength, their eyelids droop, and the person usually drops to the ground.  Atonic seizures can also be called “drop seizures”.  The seizure usually lasts less than 15 seconds and the person stays unconscious.  Childhood is usually when they start and last into adulthood.  Helmets are used for protection to keep from injury due to falling.

Another name for this type of seizure is “akinetic” (a-kin-ET-ik), which means “without movement.

WHO IS AT RISK FOR ATONIC SEIZURES?     Atonic seizures usually begin in childhood and are often seen in syndromes like Lennox Gastaut syndrome.

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO HAVE AN ATONIC SEIZURE?     The person’s body will go limp.  If they are sitting, their upper body and head slump over.  Usually if standing, the person will fall to the ground limp. This is different from tonic seizures.  People fall down to the ground stiff.  Their muscles are suddenly contracting.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER AN ATONIC SEIZURE?    First Aid is usually needed after the seizure due to the fall.  The person may or may not be confused.  People who have atonic seizures are recommended to wear helmets for protection.

HOW OFTEN WILL THEY OCCUR WHEN SOMEONE HAS ATONIC SEIZURES?     People who have atonic seizures may have one or up to several in a row.  If with a person having an atonic seizure, make sure the area is safe to prevent injuries.

HOW CAN I TELL IF SOMEONE IS HAVING AN ATONIC SEIZURE?      If the person is sitting, their head may droop down all of a sudden.  If the person is standing, they will suddenly fall to the ground.

HOW ARE ATONIC SEIZURES USUALLY DIAGNOSED?     The description of the seizure by the witness usually gives an idea of the diagnosis. Monitoring with EEG will confirm it.  Other tests may have to be performed if the seizures continue.  Tests will check the heart rhythm and/or blood pressure.  Tests will see if this the reason for the person was falling.

HOW ARE ATONIC SEIZURES TREATED?     They can be treated with surgery (callosotomy), diet (ketogenic or modified Atkins), device (Vagal nerve stimulator), and medicine.

IF I THINK MY LOVED ONE OR CHILD MAY HAVE ATONIC SEIZURES, WHAT SHOULD I DO?     If you think you or a loved one may be having atonic seizures, talk to your doctor immediately.  Atonic seizures may cause injuries due to falls.  Correct diagnosis is important for treatment.


EPILEPSY DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE!!   Every Year 200,000 People Are Diagnosed With Epilepsy. Epilepsy Affects More People Than Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, And Muscular Dystrophy.  Epilepsy Affects Close To  3 Million People In The United States. Epilepsy Is a Neurological Disorder. It Is The Least Funded For Research.   People Can Have More Than One Type Of Seizure. A Neurologist Has To Diagnose The Type Of Seizures You Are Having.  Diagnosing The Type Of Epilepsy You Have Is Critical To Help Choose The Correct Treatment.


I Have Complex Partial Petit Mal Seizures And Only Stare For 30 Seconds.  I Think That I Am Lucky That I Don’t Fall And Hurt Myself Or Bite My Tongue.  This Is Why I Work To Tell Everyone I Can About Epilepsy.  Please After Reading My Blogs Try Spreading Telling Someone You Know About Epilepsy.  We Need Your Help.  Thank You From The Bottom Of My Heart.

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