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.
An indication of simple absence seizure is a vacant stare, which may be mistaken for a lapse in attention that lasts about 10 seconds, though it may last as long as 20 seconds, without any confusion, headache or drowsiness afterward. Signs and symptoms of absence seizures include:
Afterward, there's no memory of the incident. Some people have many episodes daily, which interfere with school or daily activities.
A child may have absence seizures for some time before an adult notices the seizures, because they're so brief. A decline in a child's learning ability may be the first sign of this disorder. Teachers may comment about a child's inability to pay attention or that a child is often daydreaming.
Contact your doctor:
Contact 911 or emergency services in your area:
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).
Your doctor will ask for a detailed description of the seizures and conduct a physical exam. Tests may include:
Electroencephalography (EEG). This painless procedure measures waves of electrical activity in the brain. Brain waves are transmitted to the EEG machine via small electrodes attached to the scalp with paste or an elastic cap.
Rapid breathing (hyperventilation) during an EEG study can trigger an absence seizure. During a seizure, the pattern on the EEG differs from the normal pattern.
While most children outgrow absence seizures, some:
Other complications can include:
Following a diet that's high in fat and low in carbohydrates, known as a ketogenic diet, can improve seizure control. This is used only if traditional medications fail to control the seizures.
This diet isn't easy to maintain, but is successful at reducing seizures for some people. Variations on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, such as the glycemic index and modified Atkins diets, though less effective, aren't as restrictive as the ketogenic diet and may also provide benefit.
Here are other steps you might take to help with seizure control:
If you're living with a seizure disorder, you may feel anxious or stressed about what your future holds. Stress can affect your mental health, so it's important to talk with your doctor about your feelings and seek resources for help.
Your family members can provide much-needed support. Tell them what you know about the seizure disorder. Let them know they can ask you questions, and be open to conversations about their worries. Help them understand the condition by sharing any educational materials or other resources that your doctor has given you.
Talk with your child's teachers and coaches about your child's seizure disorder and how it affects your child at school. Discuss what your child might need from them if a seizure happens at school.
Remember, you don't have to go it alone. Reach out to family and friends. Ask your doctor about local support groups or join an online support community. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Having a strong support system is important to living with any medical condition.
Certain factors are common to children who have absence seizures, including: