Absence Seizures Explained: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Absence Seizures Explained: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Understanding absence seizures, a form of epilepsy absence seizures that often goes unnoticed, is crucial in our journey towards comprehensive epilepsy management. These brief, fleeting episodes, characterized by a sudden lapse in awareness, can significantly impact the lives of those affected, especially when they occur in adults. Recognizing what triggers absence seizures and knowing how to respond effectively is vital, as these moments, while seemingly innocuous, pose a serious concern for the person experiencing them and can have profound implications for their safety and quality of life.

In this article, we delve into the nuances of absence seizures, including their types, causes, and the most effective absence seizures treatment options available. From understanding the role of absence seizure medication in managing this condition to exploring the latest advancements in treatment, our aim is to provide a comprehensive overview that sheds light on what are absence seizures, how they can be diagnosed, and the steps we can take towards managing and treating absence seizures in adults and children alike. Through increasing awareness and accessibility to information, we endeavor to empower individuals and caregivers with the knowledge needed to navigate the complexities of living with absence seizures.

Types of Absence Seizures

Typical Absence Seizures

Typical absence seizures are characterized by a sudden, brief lapse in consciousness, where the individual appears to be staring blankly into space. These seizures are generally short, lasting only about 10 to 30 seconds, and the person returns to normal immediately after the seizure without any confusion or other residual effects. During the seizure, there may be subtle body movements such as eyelid fluttering, lip smacking, or fumbling movements of the hands. Notably, these seizures do not cause the person to fall down.

Atypical Absence Seizures

Atypical absence seizures differ from the typical form primarily in their duration and onset. These seizures may last longer, up to a few minutes, and begin more gradually. Individuals experiencing atypical absence seizures might exhibit additional movements such as eye blinking, chewing motions, or slight jerking movements of the lips. There may also be changes in muscle tone, leading to slumping or falling, which can complicate the diagnosis. After these seizures, the individual might experience short-term confusion, distinguishing it further from typical absence seizures.

Both types of absence seizures are a concern, especially in children, as they can significantly impact daily activities such as learning and social interactions. It is crucial to recognize and diagnose these seizures accurately to manage them effectively with appropriate treatment strategies.

What Causes Absence Seizures?

Brain Activity

Absence seizures are primarily caused by abnormal brain activity. The brain’s neurons, which normally send electrical and chemical signals across synapses, exhibit altered electrical activity during these seizures. This activity often manifests as a repetitive three-second pattern of electrical signals. In some cases, altered levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that facilitate communication between nerve cells, also contribute to the onset of absence seizures.

Genetic Factors

The genetic underpinnings of absence seizures are complex. Several genes are implicated in the condition, particularly those that affect ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors. Mutations in genes related to the GABAA receptor, which controls the influx of chloride ions in neurons, lead to dysfunctional receptors and an overload of neuronal signals. Additionally, mutations affecting calcium channels, which help regulate neurotransmitter release, can cause neurons to become overstimulated, triggering seizures. The genetic landscape of absence epilepsy involves multiple genes and is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

Common Triggers

Various environmental and physiological factors can trigger absence seizures. These include lack of sleep, emotional stress, and specific physical activities like hyperventilation. Certain substances and medications, such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, and drugs that affect the central nervous system, can also precipitate these seizures. It’s crucial for individuals with absence epilepsy and their caregivers to recognize these triggers to manage the condition effectively.

Diagnosing Absence Seizures

Importance of Observation

We recognize that a detailed description of seizure events is crucial for accurate diagnosis. Observations from those who witness the seizures, such as parents or teachers, provide invaluable insights. These observers should note the behaviors and symptoms during each phase of the seizure: the prodrome, aura, ictus, and postictal stages. This detailed recording includes noting any changes in awareness, muscle tone, facial expressions, and automatic movements, which are essential for differentiating absence seizures from other types of seizures.

Medical Testing

In addition to observations, specific medical tests are essential for diagnosing absence seizures. Blood tests, kidney and liver function tests, and imaging tests like CT or MRI scans are conducted to rule out other conditions. A spinal tap may also be performed to analyze cerebrospinal fluid, further aiding in the diagnostic process.

Role of EEG

The Electroencephalogram (EEG) is the primary diagnostic tool for absence seizures. It records the brain’s electrical activity and identifies characteristic patterns associated with these seizures, such as the 3-Hz spike-and-wave discharges seen in childhood absence epilepsy. During the EEG, procedures like hyperventilation or photic stimulation may be used to trigger seizures, making the patterns more evident. This test is crucial not only for confirming the diagnosis but also for monitoring the effectiveness of treatment over time.

Managing and Treating Absence Seizures


We start the treatment of absence seizures with Ethosuximide (Zarontin), which is most commonly prescribed. It has been shown to respond well in most cases, although side effects such as nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, sleep disturbances, and hyperactivity can occur. Valproic acid is another option, especially useful for children who experience both absence and tonic-clonic seizures. Its side effects, however, include nausea, attention problems, and increased appetite, with rare cases of pancreas inflammation and liver failure. Lamotrigine (Lamictal) is considered when fewer side effects are desired, though it is generally less effective than the first two medications.

Possible Complications

Females who continue medication into adulthood need to be cautious with Valproic acid due to its association with a higher risk of birth defects. It is crucial for healthcare providers to discuss the potential risks if the patient is pregnant or planning to conceive. Additionally, managing side effects and adjusting dosages under medical supervision is vital to avoid complications such as liver failure or severe digestive issues.

Long-Term Management

For long-term management, ensuring medication adherence without unauthorized dosage adjustments is essential. A ketogenic diet may be recommended if medications do not fully control the seizures. This diet is high in fats and low in carbohydrates, and while challenging to maintain, it has been successful in reducing seizures for some individuals. Regular sleep patterns and avoiding known seizure triggers like sleep deprivation are also critical in managing absence seizures effectively. Finally, wearing a medical alert bracelet can be a simple yet effective way to ensure proper treatment in emergency situations.

In managing absence seizures, it’s also important to consider lifestyle adjustments and continuous monitoring to adapt treatment plans as needed.


Through the comprehensive exploration of absence seizures, we have navigated the intricacies of their causes, symptoms, diagnostic processes, and treatment strategies. Emphasizing the significance of recognizing these seizures for effective management highlights the pivotal role of awareness and education in improving outcomes for individuals affected. This article has meticulously outlined the potential triggers, emphasized the importance of accurate diagnosis through EEG, and explored various treatment options, underscoring the necessity of an individualized approach to care in managing absence seizures.

The implications of such a detailed understanding extend beyond immediate medical care, suggesting a pathway for enhanced quality of life through informed choices and tailored interventions. By incorporating lifestyle adjustments, adhering to prescribed treatments, and staying informed about the latest research and developments, individuals dealing with absence seizures can navigate the challenges posed by this condition with greater confidence and support. As we continue to advance in our knowledge and resources, the journey toward better managing and eventually overcoming the burdens of absence seizures becomes increasingly attainable.

FAQ about absence seizures:

1. What are absence seizures?

  • Absence seizures are brief, sudden lapses in consciousness, often appearing as if the person is staring blankly into space. These seizures typically last from a few seconds to half a minute.

2. What causes absence seizures?

  • Absence seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Genetic factors, changes in brain neurotransmitters, and certain triggers like lack of sleep, stress, or specific medications can contribute to their occurrence.

3. What are the types of absence seizures?

  • There are two main types:
    • Typical absence seizures: Brief, sudden lapses in consciousness with minimal or no motor symptoms.
    • Atypical absence seizures: Longer in duration with gradual onset, and may include more noticeable movements like eye blinking or slight jerking.

4. How are absence seizures diagnosed?

  • Diagnosis involves a detailed medical history, observation of seizure events, and an Electroencephalogram (EEG) to detect characteristic brain wave patterns. Additional tests like blood tests, CT scans, or MRI may also be performed.

    Related Articles

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *