An absence seizure, formerly known as a “petit mal” seizure, is a form of seizure that is typically short-lasting, causing a 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 if 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.
What causes 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. In 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.
Absence Seizures Symptoms
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
What triggers absence seizures?
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.
How to Diagnose 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 Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care
It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids 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.