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Absence seizure


Disease: Absence seizure Absence seizure
Category: Neurological diseases
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Disease Definition:

Also called petit mal seizure, absence seizure usually occurs in children. It involves a sudden but brief lapse of conscious activity, at which time the person may look like merely staring onto space for a few seconds.

Because of the danger of drowning, children with a history of absence seizure should be supervised carefully while swimming or bathing, they may also be prohibited from driving or other activities that could be hazardous. Although the absence seizure is very mild compared with other types of epileptic seizures, however, that doesn't mean that it is not dangerous.

Many children outgrow these seizures in their teen years, but some people experience hundreds of these episodes each day, which interferes with their performance at school or work. Anti-seizure medications usually control absence seizures in an effective way.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Signs and symptoms of absence seizures may include:

  • Chewing
  • Fluttering eyelids
  • Lip smacking
  • Staring without any unusual movements
  • Hand movements

Full recovery from this seizure is almost immediate. Although afterwards there is no confusion, however, there's also no memory of the incident. Absence seizure usually lasts only a few seconds.

Because they're so brief, these seizures may occur for weeks or even months before an adult notices them. Teachers may comment about a child's inability to pay attention, additionally, a noticeable decline in a child's learning ability may be the first sign of this disorder.


In some cases, children seem to have a genetic predisposition to absence seizures, while in other cases, flashing lights or hyperventilation seem to trigger them, however, in most cases no underlying cause can be found for absence seizures.



Sometimes, people suffering from petit mal seizures eventually begin experiencing full convulsions (also known as grand mal or generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Most children outgrow these seizures, but others continue to have them throughout their lives.

Learning disabilities can be one of the other complications of absence seizures. When the seizure behavior lasts longer than a few minutes, it means that a person has a condition called absence status epilepticus.


Taking these medications on a regular schedule is crucial to maintaining the proper drug levels in the blood; however, finding the right medication and dosage can be a complex process requiring a period of trial and error.

Medications that are most effective for absence seizures include:

  • Ethosuximide
  • Valproic acid
  • Lamotrigine

The medications mentioned above can effectively eliminate or reduce the number of petit mal seizures.

Most children, after being seizure-free for two years, can discontinue anti-seizure medications under a doctor's supervision.


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