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What is Absence Seizures & How is it Treated? | Causes, Symptoms, Prognosis of Absence Seizures

What Are Absence Seizures?

The nerve cells of the brain, also known as neurons, interact or communicate with each other by firing small electrical signals. Normally, these signals are uniform and have a set pattern. However, sometimes under certain circumstances, these neurons start firing abnormally and their pattern changes suddenly and become extremely intense. This is when a person is said to have a seizure causing a variety of symptoms some of which may be very serious. During every seizure, a specific part of the brain gets involved but in some cases the whole brain is involved this is termed as a generalized seizure and is seen in most of the cases.[1,2,3]

Every seizure type has its own set of symptoms and the location of origin. Absence Seizures is a form of generalized seizure meaning that the whole brain is involved. The primary symptom of an Absence Seizure is that the patient will have lapses in awareness where he or she will just stare into empty space without any reason. It will appear as if the person all of a sudden started to daydream. This will be followed by rapid blinking of the eyes. These episodes of absence seizure only last for a few seconds and the person becomes normal again.[1,2,3]

Absence Seizures are of two types, namely typical and atypical. While typical Absence Seizures are sudden and have duration of not more than 10 seconds, Atypical Absence Seizures have a much gradual onset and may last for more than 20 seconds at a time. Absence Seizures generally occur as a result of an underlying medical condition involving the brain such as juvenile or childhood epilepsy. A person can be definitely diagnosed with Absence Seizures after experiencing a minimum of two episodes of Absence Seizures.[1,2,3]

What Causes Absence Seizures?

As stated, issues with the firing of the electrical signals from neurons are the primary cause for a person to have Absence Seizures. The electrical signals become extremely intense and have a sudden change in their pattern. This results in the variety of symptoms seen with Absence Seizures. This type of seizure is more common in children between the age of 4 and 14.[3]

However, it is still not clear as to what causes or triggers the abnormal firing of the electrical signals or causes a change in the pattern of the signals. It has been observed however that hyperventilation can at times trigger a typical Absence Seizure, although atypical form of this seizure has not been noted in any instance of hyperventilation.[3]

What are the Symptoms of Absence Seizures?

A person with Absence Seizures will have a momentary lapse of awareness. It will look as if the person is daydreaming. The person will not be able to move his hands, legs, eyes. Their reaction will be literally zero to any stimulation. The person will just stare into space without any facial expression. However, there may be at times rapid blinking of the eyelids during a seizure or the eyes may roll up.[3]

Each episode of Absence Seizures can last anywhere between 10 to 20 seconds depending on whether the seizure is typical or atypical. In some cases the episodes may be some brief that people may not even notice it. In cases of atypical Absence Seizures, the person would all of a sudden have rapid blinking of the eyes, awkwardly moving the mouth, or smack their lips. While Absence Seizures are extremely brief in some cases a person may have multiple events occurring simultaneously.[3]

How Are Absence Seizures Treated?

There is no specific guideline for treatment of Absence Seizures and in most cases does not need anything in the form of treatment. However, Absence Seizures can disrupt normal life of a person and can be socially embarrassing if an episode occurs at a social event or when with family and friends, especially if the frequency of events are more.[3]

In severe cases however a physician may prescribe medications Valproate, lamotrigine, and divalproex sodium. These are extremely effective in controlling Absence Seizures. Generally, Absence Seizures tend to decrease in frequency with time. However, in cases of childhood epilepsy, the events of Absence Seizures may go on well into adulthood.[3]

Aside from medications, there are other factors that might also be quite effective in controlling Absence Seizures. These include getting adequate sleep, coping with stress in a healthful manner, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and exercising regularly. Majority of the episodes of Absence Seizures are very brief and the patient makes complete recovery post the event.[3]

However, there are some children that may have more than 50 episodes of Absence Seizures in a day. These episodes may not pose a threat to the physical health of the child but having Absence Seizures frequently affects the overall psychological well-being of the child, especially when the episodes occur in school or while playing with friends. This may at times affect the academic performance of the child as well.[3]

What Is The Prognosis Of Absence Seizures?

The overall prognosis of Absence Seizures depends on the frequency and intensity of the seizures. In majority of the cases, children outgrow Absence Seizures by the time they reach adulthood. In some cases, however, children may need medications for a prolonged period of time to control Absence Seizures. Ongoing treatment can help prevent further episodes and also reduce the impact it has on the life of the child.[3]

A child with known diagnosis of Absence Seizures will have to go to a physician for treatment recommendations even though they may sometimes be mistaken for daydreaming. To differentiate between daydreaming and Absence Seizures is that in cases of Absence Seizures the symptoms will be of sudden onset, can occur while in the midst of any activity, the person will not be responsive during the episode, and does not last for more than 20 seconds.[3]

In conclusion, Absence Seizures occur as a result of sudden abnormal and intense electric signals firing from neurons in the brain. The neurons communicate with each other through these electrical impulses. Absence Seizures normally occur in children between the age of 4 and 14. During an episode of Absence Seizures, the child will have a momentary lapse in consciousness and will appear as if he or she is daydreaming.[1,2,3]

During the episode, the child will also be unresponsive to any external stimuli. At maximum, an episode of Absence Seizures lasts for 10-20 seconds. Once the episode is over, the child makes a complete recovery. In majority of the cases, a child outgrows Absence Seizures by adulthood.[1,2,3]

There are no specific guidelines for treatment of Absence Seizures. However, if the frequency and intensity of the episodes are severe then anti-seizure medications like lamotrigine or divalproex are quite effective in controlling and managing Absence Seizures.[1,2,3]


Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 14, 2021

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