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Absence Seizures

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Absence seizures, previously known as petit mal seizures are a type of uncommon seizures that occur without any warning. It is a type of a nervous system disorder where any changes in the brain activity can lead to seizures. Based on the kind of seizure one experiences, epilepsy is classified. Let us learn about absence seizures that goes undiagnosed for years.

What are Absence Seizures?

Absence seizures are seizures that lead to a blank or ‘absent’ stare. These seizures are common in children of age group 4 to 12 years. Absence seizures causes the child to stare blankly for sometime and supper from a lapse of awareness. They begin suddenly and end abruptly. These seizures last just for a few seconds and thus, often go unnoticed. At times, a child can suffer from 40 – 100 seizures a day.

Types of Absence Seizures

The two types of absence seizures are:

  • Simple absence seizures: The seizure lasts for less than 10 seconds. The affected child stares into space and as they happen so quickly, it is often mistaken as daydreaming or not paying attention in class.
  • Complex absence seizures: Along with staring into space during a seizure, the affected child may carry out certain actions. These actions include blinking, chewing, rubbing hands together or other hand movements. The seizure lasts for 20 seconds.

What Happens During An Absence Seizure?

During an absence seizure, the affected child turns unaware of his/her surroundings. They won’t know if someone is trying to talk to them or if they were in a middle of a talk, they will suddenly stop speaking mid-sentence. If the child was eating, they will abruptly stop chewing. At times, one may suffer from a brief moment of rotation of the eye in the upward direction. A person walking will suddenly stand still. Once the seizure ends, the child carries on with his/her activity as if nothing ever happened.

These seizures affect a child’s performance in school. The teachers label the child as a daydreamer, distracted, uninterested in studies, absent minded, lost, weak, etc. The child never has any memory of the seizure and thus, never understands he/she is suffering from a disorder.

If you observe a child is:

  • Lost, confused
  • Carrying on activities without awareness
  • Suffering from a seizure due to repetitive actions like blinking, rubbing hands or fingers together
  • Suffering from learning problems
  • Suddenly stops mid-sentence or when carrying out certain task

on more than one occasion, seek medical attention immediately.

What Causes Absence Seizures?

Absence seizures have no known cause. It seems to have a genetic link to it. Absence seizures are common in children and often outgrow them by the time they reach 18 years of age.

How Are Absence Seizures Diagnosed?

Absence seizures are diagnosed with the help of an EEG. The electroencephalogram helps check the brain activity that indicates presence of seizures. Hyperventilation may also trigger absence seizures. Thus, the patient may be asked to breathe fast to trigger an episode for diagnosis.

Can Absence Seizures Be Treated?

The treatment aims at prevention of absence seizures. Thus, very low doses of medications are given to children. These medications include ethosuximide, valproic acid and lamotrigine.

In most cases, children outgrow these seizures by the time they step into adulthood. Only a few may go on and develop other types of seizures. These kids often suffer from behavior problems, learning disability and have low social interactions. Give your love and support to children with absence seizures. Soon, they will overcome this disorder and live a normal life.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 05, 2015