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A to Z: Seizure, Absence

May also be called: Petit Mal Seizure

An absence seizure is a type of epileptic seizure that causes people to briefly become unaware of what's happening around them and stare ahead without moving, appearing "absent."

More to Know

Absence seizures affect children more than adults and may be associated with other types of seizures.

There is no known cause for absence seizures, but they do tend to run in families. Like all seizures, they're the result of abnormal electrical or chemical activity in the brain. Hyperventilation or flashing lights may be triggers, but there may be no such identifiable triggers.

Absence seizures happen without warning, usually last less than 15 seconds, and can occur multiple times a day. Because they can be misinterpreted as daydreaming or lack of attention, they can be difficult to diagnose. They can be very disruptive to a student's learning in the classroom and dangerous during certain activities like swimming.

In addition to a sudden stop in movement and awareness, people who experience an absence seizure may make chewing motions, flutter their eyelids, smack their lips, or fumble with their hands. Following the seizure, the person will immediately return to an alert state and have no memory of the episode.

Keep in Mind

While absence seizures can be disturbing, many anti-seizure medications are available to significantly reduce the occurrence of seizures or even eliminate them. In addition, many kids and teens outgrow these seizures as they reach adulthood.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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