Absence Seizure

Condition 101

What is the definition of Absence Seizure?

An absence seizure is the term for a type of seizure involving staring spells. This type of seizure is a brief (usually less than 15 seconds) disturbance of brain function due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

What are the alternative names for Absence Seizure?

Seizure - petit mal; Seizure - absence; Petit mal seizure; Epilepsy - absence seizure

What are the causes for Absence Seizure?

Seizures result from overactivity in the brain. Absence seizures occur most often in people under age 20, usually in children ages 4 to 12.

In some cases, the seizures are triggered by flashing lights or when the person breathes faster and more deeply than usual (hyperventilates).

They may occur with other types of seizures, such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures), twitches or jerks (myoclonus), or sudden loss of muscle strength (atonic seizures).

What are the symptoms for Absence Seizure?

Most absence seizures last only a few seconds. They often involve staring episodes. The episodes may:

  • Occur many times a day
  • Occur for weeks to months before being noticed
  • Interfere with school and learning
  • Be mistaken for lack of attention, daydreaming or other misbehavior

Unexplained difficulties in school and learning difficulties may be the first sign of absence seizures.

During the seizure, the person may:

  • Stop walking and start again a few seconds later
  • Stop talking in mid-sentence and start again a few seconds later

The person usually does not fall during the seizure.

Right after the seizure, the person is usually:

  • Wide awake
  • Thinking clearly
  • Unaware of the seizure

Specific symptoms of typical absence seizures may include:

  • Changes in muscle activity, such as no movement, hand fumbling, fluttering eyelids, lip smacking, chewing
  • Changes in alertness (consciousness), such as staring episodes, lack of awareness of surroundings, sudden halt in movement, talking, and other awake activities

Some absence seizures begin slower and last longer. These are called atypical absence seizures. Symptoms are similar to regular absence seizures, but muscle activity changes may be more noticeable.

What are the current treatments for Absence Seizure?

Treatment for absence seizures includes medicines, changes in lifestyle for adults and children, such as activity and diet, and sometimes surgery. Your doctor can tell you more about these options.


Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 101.

Kanner AM, Ashman E, Gloss D, et al. Practice guideline update summary: Efficacy and tolerability of the new antiepileptic drugs I: Treatment of new-onset epilepsy: Report of the Guideline Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Epilepsy Society. Neurology. 2018;91(2):74-81. PMID: 29898971

Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM. Seizures. In: Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM, eds. Nelson Essentials of Pediatrics. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 181.

Wiebe S. The epilepsies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 375.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
  • Condition: Sunflower Syndrome
  • Journal: Epileptic disorders : international epilepsy journal with videotape
  • Treatment Used: Antiepileptic Drugs (AEDs) and Non-Pharmacological Strategies
  • Number of Patients: 24
  • Published —
This review examined pediatric patients with Sunflower syndrome (light-induced seizures) and its treatments.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: COVID-19 in persons with epilepsy (Coronavirus)
  • Journal: Epilepsy research
  • Treatment Used: Chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine therapy
  • Number of Patients: 746
  • Published —
The study researched the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine therapy for treating COVID-19 in persons with epilepsy (Coronavirus).
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Neonatal Seizures
  • Journal: Pediatrics
  • Treatment Used: Levetiracetam or Phenobarbital
  • Number of Patients: 30
  • Published —
This study compared the clinical outcome of using levetiracetam or phenobarbital to treat patients with neonatal seizures.
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Pediatric Epilepsy
  • Journal: Neurology
  • Treatment Used: Surgery
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
The study researched the outcomes of surgery for pediatric epilepsy.