Abscence seizure (Petit mal seizure)

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Update Date 12/05/2020 . 4 mins read
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What are abscence seizures?

Absence seizures involve brief, sudden lapses of consciousness. Someone having an absence seizure may look like he or she is staring into space for a few seconds. 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.

How common are abscence seizures?

Absence seizures are most common in children from age 4 to 14. However, older teens and adults may also have absence seizures. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of abscence seizures?

The common symptoms of abscence seizure are:

  • Staring off into space
  • Smacking the lips together
  • Fluttering eyelids
  • Stopping speech in the middle of a sentence
  • Making sudden hand movements
  • Leaning forward or backward
  • Appearing suddenly motionless

Adults often mistake children with absence seizures for misbehaving or being inattentive. A child’s teacher is often the first to notice absence seizure symptoms. The child will appear temporarily absent from their body.

You can tell if a person is experiencing an absence seizure because the person is unaware of their surroundings, even with touch or sound. Grand mal seizures may begin with an aura or warning sensation. However, absence seizures typically occur suddenly and with no warning. This makes taking precautions to protect the patient important.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes abscence seizure?

Your brain is a complicated organ, and your body relies on it for many things. It maintains your heartbeat and breathing. The nerve cells in your brain send electrical and chemical signals to each other to communicate. A seizure interferes with this electrical activity in the brain. During an absence seizure, your brain’s electrical signals repeat themselves. A person who has absence seizures may also have altered levels of neurotransmitters. These are the chemical messengers that help cells communicate.

Researchers don’t know the specific cause for absence seizures. The condition may be genetic and able to pass down from generation to generation. Hyperventilation or flashing lights may trigger an absence seizure in others. Doctors may never find a specific cause for some patients.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for abscence seizure?

There are many risk factors for abscence seizure, such as:

  • Absence seizures are more common in children between the ages of 4 and 10.
  • In general, most seizures are more common in boys, but absence seizures are more common in girls.
  • History of febrile seizures. Infants and children who have seizures brought on by fever are at greater risk of absence seizures.
  • Family members who have seizures. Nearly half of children with absence seizures have a close relative who has seizures.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is abscence seizure diagnosed?

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. Your child may be asked to breathe rapidly or look at flickering lights, an attempt to provoke a seizure. During a seizure, the pattern on the EEG differs from the normal pattern.
  • Brain scans. Tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can produce detailed images of the brain, which can help rule out other problems, such as a stroke or a brain tumor. Because your child will need to hold still for long periods, talk with your doctor about the possible use of sedation.

How is abscence seizure treated?

Your doctor likely will start at the lowest dose of anti-seizure medication possible and increase the dosage as needed to control the seizures. Most children can taper off anti-seizure medications, under a doctor’s supervision, after they’ve been seizure-free for two years.

Drugs prescribed for absence seizure include:

  • Ethosuximide (Zarontin). This is the drug most doctors start with for absence seizures. In most cases, seizures respond well to this drug.
  • Valproic acid (Depakene). Because this drug has been associated with higher risk of birth defects in babies, doctors advise women against using it while trying to conceive or during pregnancy. Women who can’t achieve seizure control on other medications should discuss potential risks with their doctors.
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal). Some studies show this drug to be less effective than ethosuximide or valproic acid, but has fewer side effects.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage abscence seizure?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with abscence seizure:

  • A person with absence seizures may elect to wear a medical bracelet for identification for emergency medical reasons. The bracelet should state whom to contact in an emergency and what medications you use. It’s also a good idea to let teachers, coaches and child care workers know about the seizures.
  • Even after they’ve been controlled with medication, seizures may affect areas of your child’s life, such as attention span and learning. He or she will have to be seizure-free for reasonable lengths of time (intervals vary from state to state) before being able to drive.
  • You may find it helpful to talk with other people who are in the same situation as you. Besides offering support, they may have advice or tips for coping that you haven’t considered.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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