Absence Seizures : causes, symptoms, Treatment

Absence seizures;


Absence seizures, also known as petit mal seizures, are a type of seizure characterized by a brief loss of consciousness and awareness. Despite being less dramatic than other seizure types, absence seizures can significantly impact daily life and require proper understanding and management.

What Are Absence Seizures?

Absence seizures are a type of generalized seizure that primarily affects children, although they can occur at any age. During an absence seizure, the person may appear to stare blankly into space for a few seconds to half a minute. These episodes can occur multiple times a day, interfering with daily activities such as school or work.

Symptoms of Absence Seizures

  1. Sudden Staring Spells: The individual may suddenly stop what they are doing and stare into space.
  2. Unresponsiveness: During the seizure, the person is unresponsive and unaware of their surroundings.
  3. Fluttering Eyelids: Rapid fluttering of the eyelids may occur.
  4. Automatic Movements: Some individuals may exhibit automatic movements such as lip smacking or hand gestures.

Types of Absence Seizures

  1. Typical Absence Seizures: These are the most common type and are characterized by sudden onset and cessation of seizure activity.
  2. Atypical Absence Seizures: These seizures may last longer than typical absence seizures and may involve additional symptoms such as changes in muscle tone.

Causes of Absence Seizures

1. Genetic Factors

  • Family History: Individuals with a family history of epilepsy or absence seizures are more likely to develop the condition.
  • Genetic Mutations: Specific genetic mutations have been identified as risk factors for absence seizures.

2. Brain Abnormalities

  • Cortical Malformations: Structural abnormalities in the brain’s cortex can disrupt normal neuronal activity and lead to seizures.
  • Hypothalamic Hamartomas: Benign tumors in the hypothalamus can cause abnormal electrical activity in the brain, increasing the risk of seizures.
  • Stroke or Traumatic Brain Injury: Damage to the brain resulting from stroke, head injury, or other traumatic events can predispose individuals to absence seizures.

3. Metabolic Disorders

  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels can trigger seizures, including absence seizures.
  • Electrolyte Imbalances: Abnormal levels of electrolytes such as sodium or calcium in the blood can disrupt neuronal function and lead to seizures.
  • Inborn Errors of Metabolism: Metabolic disorders such as mitochondrial disease or organic acidemia can increase the risk of seizures, including absence seizures.

4. Neurochemical Imbalance

  • Imbalance of Neurotransmitters: Disruption in the balance of neurotransmitters, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate, can lead to abnormal neuronal activity and seizures.
  • Altered Ion Channel Function: Mutations in genes encoding ion channels can impair the regulation of ion flow across neuronal membranes, leading to hyperexcitability and seizures.

5. Developmental Factors

  • Critical Periods of Brain Development: Disruptions in brain development during critical periods, such as prenatal or early childhood, can increase the risk of developing epilepsy, including absence seizures.
  • Perinatal Factors: Complications during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, such as maternal infection or hypoxia, can contribute to abnormal brain development and epilepsy later in life.


    Diagnosis of Absence Seizures

    1. Medical History

    • Patient Interview: Gathering information about the patient’s symptoms, medical history, family history of seizures, and any potential triggers or precipitating factors.
    • Description of Episodes: Detailed description of the episodes, including the frequency, duration, and associated symptoms.

    2. Physical Examination

    • Neurological Assessment: Evaluation of neurological function, including motor skills, reflexes, coordination, and sensory responses.
    • Observation of Seizure Activity: If possible, observing the patient during a suspected seizure episode to note any characteristic features.

    3. Diagnostic Tests

    • Electroencephalogram (EEG): Recording of electrical activity in the brain using electrodes placed on the scalp. EEG can detect abnormal patterns indicative of absence seizures, such as generalized 3 Hz spike-and-wave discharges.
    • Video EEG Monitoring: Combining EEG with video recording to correlate seizure activity with behavioral manifestations, aiding in diagnosis and classification of seizure types.
    • Brain Imaging: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans may be performed to identify structural abnormalities or lesions in the brain that could be causing the seizures.

    4. Differential Diagnosis

    • Distinguishing Absence Seizures from Other Seizure Types: Absence seizures must be differentiated from other types of seizures, such as focal seizures, myoclonic seizures, or psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES).
    • Ruling Out Mimics: Certain conditions, such as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), migraines, or syncope, can mimic absence seizures and must be ruled out through thorough evaluation.

    5. Provocative Testing

    • Hyperventilation Test: Inducing hyperventilation to provoke absence seizures, as they may be more easily detected during this maneuver.
    • Photic Stimulation: Exposing the patient to rhythmic flashing lights to trigger seizure activity, particularly in individuals with photosensitive epilepsy.

    6. Long-Term Monitoring

    • Ambulatory EEG Monitoring: Continuous EEG monitoring over an extended period, typically 24 to 72 hours, to capture seizure activity occurring outside of the clinical setting.
    • Seizure Diary: Encouraging patients or caregivers to maintain a detailed log of seizure frequency, duration, triggers, and associated factors to aid in treatment planning and monitoring.

    Treatment Of Absence Seizures:

    1. Antiseizure Medications

    • Ethosuximide (Zarontin):
      • Mechanism of Action: Blocks T-type calcium channels, reducing neuronal excitability in the thalamus.
      • Dosage: Initial dose of 250 mg once or twice daily, with gradual titration up to 20 mg/kg/day in divided doses.
      • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of serum drug levels to ensure therapeutic efficacy and minimize adverse effects.
      • Side Effects: Common side effects include gastrointestinal upset, drowsiness, and headache.
    • Valproic Acid (Depakote):
      • Mechanism of Action: Enhances gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity and inhibits voltage-gated sodium channels, exerting antiepileptic effects.
      • Dosage: Initial dose of 15 mg/kg/day in divided doses, titrated up to a maximum of 60 mg/kg/day based on response and tolerability.
      • Monitoring: Periodic monitoring of liver function tests and serum drug levels to assess for hepatotoxicity and maintain therapeutic levels.
      • Side Effects: Potential side effects include weight gain, hair loss, tremor, and hepatotoxicity.
    • Lamotrigine (Lamictal):
      • Mechanism of Action: Blocks voltage-gated sodium channels, inhibiting the release of excitatory neurotransmitters and stabilizing neuronal membranes.
      • Dosage: Initial dose of 0.3 to 0.6 mg/kg/day, titrated up to a maintenance dose of 5 to 15 mg/kg/day.
      • Monitoring: Close monitoring for signs of Stevens-Johnson syndrome and other serious skin reactions, especially during the initial weeks of treatment.
      • Side Effects: Common side effects include dizziness, headache, rash, and diplopia.

    2. Adjunctive Therapies

    • Ketogenic Diet:
      • Mechanism of Action: Mimics the metabolic effects of fasting, leading to increased production of ketone bodies, which may exert antiepileptic effects.
      • Dosage: High-fat, low-carbohydrate diet consisting of approximately 4:1 ratio of fats to carbohydrates and proteins.
      • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of ketone levels and nutritional status to ensure compliance and effectiveness of the diet.
      • Side Effects: Potential side effects include gastrointestinal disturbances, constipation, and dyslipidemia.
    • Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS):
      • Mechanism of Action: Modulates neuronal excitability through intermittent electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve, reducing seizure frequency and severity.
      • Dosage: Stimulation parameters adjusted individually based on patient response and tolerability.
      • Monitoring: Regular follow-up visits to assess efficacy, adjust stimulation settings, and manage potential side effects.
      • Side Effects: Common side effects include hoarseness, cough, and paresthesia at the site of the stimulator.

    3. Lifestyle Modifications

    • Maintaining Adequate Sleep:
      • How it helps: Ensuring sufficient rest and sleep can help stabilize neuronal activity and reduce the risk of seizure recurrence.
      • Duration: Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, with a consistent sleep schedule.
    • Stress Management:
      • Mechanism of Action: Stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, relaxation exercises, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, can help modulate neuronal excitability and reduce seizure triggers.

    Effective management of absence seizures involves a multimodal approach, including antiseizure medications, adjunctive therapies, and lifestyle modifications tailored to the individual needs of patients.

      Living with Absence Seizures

      1. Education: Educating family members, teachers, and peers about absence seizures can help create a supportive environment.
      2. Regular Medical Follow-Up: Regular visits to a neurologist are essential to monitor seizure activity and adjust treatment as needed.
      3. Emergency Preparedness: Developing a seizure action plan and ensuring access to rescue medications can be life-saving in the event of a prolonged seizure.


      Absence seizures, while less dramatic than other seizure types, can significantly impact daily life.

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