An absence seizure is the term given to a staring spell. This type of seizure is a brief (usually less than 15 seconds) disturbance of brain function due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Absence seizure occur most often in people under age 20, usually in children ages 6 to 12.
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).
Most absence seizures last only a few seconds. They often involve staring episodes. The episodes may:
Unexplained difficulties in school and learning difficulties may be the first sign of absence seizures.
During the seizure, the person may:
The person usually does not fall during the seizure.
Immediately after the seizure, the person is usually:
Specific symptoms of typical absence seizures may include:
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.
For information on diagnosis and treatment, see:
Seizure - petit mal; Seizure - absence; Petit mal seizure; Epilepsy - absence seizure
Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 67.
Buchhalter J. Treatment of childhood absence epilepsy -- an evidence-based answer at last! Epilepsy Curr. 2011;11(1):12–15.
Wiebe S. The epilepsies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 410.
Updated by: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2014, A.D.A.M., Inc. Duplication for commercial use must be authorized in writing by ADAM Health Solutions.