Absence Seizures

Absence Seizures

An absence seizure, formerly known as a “petit mal” seizure, is a form of seizure that is typically short-lasting, causing temporary loss of awareness and attention. Because they are difficult to identify, absence seizures may be mistaken for daydreaming or “spacing out.” These seizures do require serious attention and treatment, particularly if there is any risk of injury or they are interfering with daily activities.

Absence seizures are most common in children, but often go undiagnosed for long periods of time due to difficulty in noticing symptoms. In many cases, children will outgrow these seizures as they reach adolescence, but in other situations, it is possible for them to develop into other types of seizures.

Learning more about absence seizures can help you be more engaged as you seek treatment and the best possible care for your child. We’re happy to share the following guide to causes, triggers, diagnosis, treatment, and care of absence seizures to help you on your care journey.

Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Triggers of Absence Seizures

Seizures are generally caused by a dysfunction affecting electrical impulses in the brain. Instead of flowing normally through neurons and synapses, signals will essentially loop in a repeating pattern during a seizure. With absence seizures, these patterns will be very short, and normal brain function will resume in a brief period of time.

Medical researchers are still working to fully understand the causes of absence seizures. Although they can be related to epilepsy, absence seizures can occur without the condition being present.

Seizures are believed to be related to certain genetic markers that can increase the likelihood of developing altered brain chemistry that triggers a seizure. Children between the ages of four and 14 are at the highest risk of developing absence seizures, and girls are slightly more likely than boys to experience episodes.

Although absence seizures can be difficult to identify due to the short duration and subtle indicators, there are symptoms to watch for that can distinguish it from daydreaming or normal inattention. Symptoms that may accompany an absence seizure include:

  • A blank stare that lasts for about 15 seconds at a time
  • Sudden movement stops, usually without falling
  • Blinking or fluttering of eyelids
  • Chewing and/or smacking of the lips
  • Rubbing fingers together or other small hand movements

Patients who are experiencing absence seizures will usually have them multiple times a day, with seemingly no immediate triggers. Any child believed to be experiencing absence seizures should receive a thorough examination from a doctor.

Diagnosing Absence Seizures

Doctors need to perform a full evaluation to positively identify absence seizures and to rule out other potential causes, such as a stroke or brain tumor. The standard steps for diagnosing absence seizures include:

  • Reviewing medical history
  • Asking questions about the seizures and any accompanying symptoms
  • Performing a physical examination
  • Ordering diagnostic tests, such as electroencephalography (EEG) and MRI to detect brain waves

Absence Seizures Treatment Options

Upon diagnosis of absence seizures, treatment will usually consist of anti-seizure medications that have been shown to help control the onset of seizures. These can include:

  • Ethosuximide (Zarontin): An anticonvulsant that doctors usually prescribe first in many cases. This medication does have potential side effects including nausea, vomiting, and hyperactivity.
  • Lamotrigine (Lamictal): This anticonvulsant has less pronounced side effects although it is slightly less effective at seizure prevention.
  • Valproic acid (Depakene): An anticonvulsant and mood stabilizer that is used for seizures related to epilepsy. Because of the risk of pregnancy complications and birth defects, doctors may not recommend women take this drug as they reach adulthood.

Often, doctors will recommend tapering off of anti-seizure medications if a child is seizure-free for two years. Seizure treatment may also involve nutritional changes, getting enough sleep, and receiving counseling and support from a professional therapist.

Caring for a Child with Absence Seizures

Depending on the severity and frequency, children with seizures can have special care needs. In some cases, children need to be monitored regularly to make sure they are safe and not prone to a dangerous situation if a seizure occurs. Another concern is making sure that children stay on their medication regimen to prevent episodes from occurring.

Pediatric home health services are commonly sought by parents and families of children with seizures, including absence seizures, to ensure continuity of care. A qualified nurse can help with a range of care needs, by providing 1:1 care including medication administration, physician-ordered treatments, managing schedules, and providing a safe and supervised environment.

Contact Sonas for Home Health Care in Florida

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Sonas Home Health Care is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services in Florida, contact the caring staff at Sonas Home Health Care. Call today at (888) 592-5855.

Jillian Miller
Jillian Miller BSN, RN
Director of Nursing at

This blog was reviewed by Jillian Miller BSN, RN — Director of Nursing for Sonas Home Health Care’s Tampa Bay market — for clinical accuracy. Jillian Miller has been a nurse for 16 years — working primarily in pediatrics. She believes the best part of working with the pediatric population is when you see smiles from clients when you first enter the room. She loves seeing the difference you can make in families’ lives while providing the best care possible for them.

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