Absence seizures involve brief, sudden lapses of consciousness. They're more common in children than in adults.
Someone having an absence seizure may look like he or she is staring blankly into space for a few seconds. Then, there is a quick return to a normal level of alertness. This type of seizure usually doesn't lead to physical injury.
Absence seizures usually can be controlled with anti-seizure medications. Some children who have them also develop other seizures. Many children outgrow absence seizures in their teens.
Products & Services
An indication of simple absence seizure is a vacant stare, which may be mistaken for a lapse in attention that lasts about 10 seconds, though it may last as long as 20 seconds, without any confusion, headache or drowsiness afterward. Signs and symptoms of absence seizures include:
- Sudden stop in motion without falling
- Lip smacking
- Eyelid flutters
- Chewing motions
- Finger rubbing
- Small movements of both hands
Afterward, there's no memory of the incident. Some people have many episodes daily, which interfere with school or daily activities.
A child may have absence seizures for some time before an adult notices the seizures, because they're so brief. A decline in a child's learning ability may be the first sign of this disorder. Teachers may comment about a child's inability to pay attention or that a child is often daydreaming.
When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor:
- The first time you notice a seizure
- If this is a new type of seizure
- If the seizures continue to occur despite taking anti-seizure medication
Contact 911 or emergency services in your area:
- If you observe prolonged automatic behaviors lasting minutes to hours — activities such as eating or moving without awareness — or prolonged confusion, possible symptoms of a condition called absence status epilepticus
- After any seizure lasting more than five minutes
Get the latest epilepsy information from Mayo Clinic delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe for free and receive the latest on epilepsy treatment, care and management.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information, and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thanks for Subscribing
You will receive the first epilepsy email message in your inbox shortly. This message will include the latest treatment options, innovations and other information from our epilepsy experts.
You may opt out of these emails any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the email.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
Many children appear to have a genetic predisposition to absence seizures.
In general, seizures are caused by abnormal electrical impulses from nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. The brain's nerve cells normally send electrical and chemical signals across the synapses that connect them.
In people who have seizures, the brain's usual electrical activity is altered. During an absence seizure, these electrical signals repeat themselves over and over in a three-second pattern.
People who have seizures may also have altered levels of the chemical messengers that help the nerve cells communicate with one another (neurotransmitters).
Certain factors are common to children who have absence seizures, including:
- Age. Absence seizures are more common in children between the ages of 4 and 14.
- Sex. Absence seizures are more common in girls.
- Family members who have seizures. Nearly half of children with absence seizures have a close relative who has seizures.
While most children outgrow absence seizures, some:
- Must take anti-seizure medications throughout life to prevent seizures
- Eventually have full convulsions, such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures
Other complications can include:
- Learning difficulties
- Behavior problems
- Social isolation
Feb. 24, 2021