Absence Seizure Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Absence seizure is typically a disorder of childhood that entails periodic, brief lapses in consciousness and unresponsiveness that last 3 to 15 seconds before complete return of full functioning.

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Absence Seizure?

Summary

Absence seizure ordinarily affects children aged 4 to 14. It involves the periodic onset of a seizure without any jerking movements. These seizures can be very infrequent or very frequent. During a seizure, the affected person will become unresponsive to the outside world and will usually stare off into space. The person will then suddenly and fully recover, typically without knowing that anything happened. There is no period of drowsiness or impairment after a seizure. The disease cannot be prevented from manifesting, but it usually goes away during the teenage years. Seizures can be prevented with medication. Absence seizure can also occur along with other types of seizures, and it is important to be fully worked up by a doctor.

Recommended care

Absence Seizure Symptoms

Main symptoms

The main symptoms of absence seizure come on suddenly and go away suddenly. There is usually no warning that a seizure will happen:

  • Staring off into space
  • Becoming unresponsive
  • Being still (not moving)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Drooling
  • Sudden resumption of previous activity afterward
  • Amnesia: The person will not remember or even know that a seizure occurred.

Other symptoms

The affected person may also experience:

  • Smacking of the lips
  • Rapid eyelid blinking
  • Infrequent jerks or twitches

Absence Seizure Causes

The cause of absence seizures is unknown; however, people, usually young children, with the diagnosis have seizures because of temporary abnormal electrical signals in the brain. These electrical signals periodically induce a complete suppression of brain activity, including motor, sensory, and perceptual functions for a few seconds. The disorder typically goes away sometime during the teenage years. There is no damage from the seizures themselves, but the loss of perception and movement can cause accidents to happen to the affected individual. For example, if the person is engaged in physical activity or located in a dangerous location or situation, the loss of motor function could endanger them physically.

Absence Seizure Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out if your symptoms point to absence seizure

Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Absence Seizure

Treatment

The diagnosis of absence is typically easy to make when the adequate patient history has been provided by a parent or a teacher to the doctor. The doctor may perform additional tests, such as blood tests, CaT or MRI scans of the brain, and examination of the fluid in the spinal cord. The disorder is typically managed by a pediatric neurologist and possibly a neurosurgeon.

Absence seizure disorders cannot be cured or prevented but they can be treated. Treatment has an excellent chance that seizures are completely prevented from ever occurring. Some medications that are used include:

  • Ethosuximide (Zarontin)
  • Valproic acid (Depakote)

If these drugs are ineffective, another drug called lamotrigine (Lamictal) may be added.

Surgery may also be considered. In surgical cases, the part of the brain that is malfunctioning is localized using electroencephalography (EEG) recordings. This region may be able to be surgically removed depending on its size and where it is located.

In the majority of cases (65%), the seizures will completely resolve by age 15 and the medication can be discontinued.

Prevention

The onset of disease cannot be prevented. However, once you have the disease, the following strategies can be used to prevent the onset of seizures:

  • Take medication as directed: This is the single most important recommendation.
  • Get eight hours of sleep a night
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid stress
  • Get plenty of exercise and eat healthfully

In addition, it may be important that you prevent injury during absence episodes. For example, if you have seizures while driving a car, you may get into a car accident. Therefore, you may need to completely abstain from driving and from other dangerous situations until your seizures are well controlled or the disorder resolves.

When to Seek Further Consultation for Absence Seizure

You should seek consultation if your child has been noted to stare off into space suddenly, become still, and then suddenly regain responsiveness 3 to 15 seconds afterward.

Sometimes, absence seizure can occur in the context of another seizure disorder, so it is important that your child’s doctor works you him or her up completely to determine if he or she has other types of seizures.

In addition, if a child is diagnosed with absence seizures and cannot sleep well, you should seek the counsel of a doctor to improve sleep as this can prevent seizures. In the case of high stress, a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist should be sought to improve stress management.