Absence seizures involve brief, sudden lapses of consciousness. They’re more common in children than in adults.
Someone having an absence seizure may look like he or she is staring blankly into space for a few seconds. Then, there is a quick return to a normal level of alertness. This type of seizure usually doesn’t lead to physical injury.
Absence seizures usually can be controlled with anti-seizure medications. Some children who have them also develop other seizures. Many children outgrow absence seizures in their teens.
When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor:
- The first time you notice a seizure
- If this is a new type of seizure
- If the seizures continue to occur despite taking anti-seizure medication
- If you observe prolonged automatic behaviors lasting minutes to hours — activities such as eating or moving without awareness — or prolonged confusion, possible symptoms of a condition called absence status epilepticus
- After any seizure lasting more than five minutes
Many children appear to have a genetic predisposition to absence seizures.
In general, seizures are caused by abnormal electrical impulses from nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. The brain’s nerve cells normally send electrical and chemical signals across the synapses that connect them.
In people who have seizures, the brain’s usual electrical activity is altered. During an absence seizure, these electrical signals repeat themselves over and over in a three-second pattern.
People who have seizures may also have altered levels of the chemical messengers that help the nerve cells communicate with one another (neurotransmitters).
Certain factors are common to children who have absence seizures, including:
- Age. Absence seizures are more common in children between the ages of 4 and 14.
- Sex. Absence seizures are more common in girls.
- Family members who have seizures. Nearly half of children with absence seizures have a close relative who has seizures.
While most children outgrow absence seizures, some:
- Must take anti-seizure medications throughout life to prevent seizures
- Eventually have full convulsions, such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures
Other complications can include:
- Learning difficulties
- Behavior problems
- Social isolation