Absence seizures, formerly known as petit mal seizures, are a type of generalized seizure. When these seizures occur a person will completely blank out and become unaware of what is going on around them. During a simple seizure an individual will stare blankly for about 10 seconds or less. A complex seizure can last up to twenty seconds and the person will make some kind of movement while staring into space. This condition is most common in children ages 4 to 14 and among girls. Some symptoms may include a sudden stop in motion without falling, a sudden stop in speech, lip smacking, chewing motions, eyelid fluttering, and small movements of both hands. After an absence seizure a person will have no memory of it and will continue with his/her activity. Since this seizure occurs so quickly, it may be difficult to notice. Absence seizures may occur infrequently or more than 100 times per day.
Children who experienced seizures brought on by a fever (febrile seizures) or who have close relatives who have had absence seizures are at an increased risk. Absence seizures rarely develop in infants and only occasionally in teens and adults. Children with absence seizures sometimes also experience tonic-clonic seizures.
The cause for absence seizures is unknown. Genetic factors are believed to be involved. Seizures are a result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. In an absence seizure the electrical signals in the brain repeat themselves in a 3 second pattern. Rapid breathing (hyperventilation) may trigger an absence seizure. Doctors diagnose this by running a test called electroencephalogram (EEG). This test checks the brain for unusual electrical activity. The most common form of treatment is medication. Children often outgrow this condition, but some many develop other seizure types. Talk with your doctor to decide what treatment option is best. Support groups are also good resources of support and information.