Absence and Atypical Absence Seizures

By: Aliana Gordon

What are absence seizures?

Absence seizures are generalized onset seizures involving brief, sudden lapses of consciousness. Also referred to as petit mal seizures, they usually last for less than 15 seconds without any warning signs or memory of the incident. It may look as if the person is staring blanking or daydreaming for a few seconds before quickly regaining consciousness. Often there are not any long-term problems and can be controlled with medication.

The development of absence seizures could be a result of a genetic predisposition that alter levels of neurotransmitters. It generally occurs from abnormal electrical discharges within the brain from neurons.

Atypical absence seizures are different from typical absence seizures. The seizures are still generalized, meaning it affects both hemispheres of the brain but varies in length and symptoms of the type. The distinguishing features associated are the loss of muscle tone and mild conscious impairment that may occur for 15-30 seconds, sometimes longer. The seizures are often manifested in children with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome who might also experience other types of epileptic seizures.


The seizures are more common in children between the ages of 4-14 and are not likely to continue into adulthood but could occur at any age. In the lapses of consciousness, the person can be characterized as having an absent stare and suddenly stop moving without falling. Only lasting for a brief moment, there might be multiple occurrences daily without any warning. Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Lip-smacking
  • Eyelid fluttering
  • Chewing motions
  • Rubbing fingers
  • Small hand movements


The first step after consulting a doctor is often to take an electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor the electrical activity in the brain. Absence seizures would differentiate itself from other types by displaying repetitive electrical signals in a 3-second pattern. The evaluation may include multiple tests to evaluate symptoms as the type of seizure may be easy to miss.

Medication is the most common treatment to combat abnormal electrical discharge. The type of medicine varies depending on if the patient has more than one type of seizure disorder, leading to the intake of multiple medications. Some other tips that may help prevent the occurrence of absence seizures include:

  • Taking medication responsibly
  • Managing stress levels
  • Maintaining healthy nutritional habits
  • Exercise regularly
  • Getting plenty of sleep

What should you do?

If you are with someone experiencing absence seizures, it is best to stay by them for safety and be compassionate regarding the situation. They will often come out of the episode unaware of its occurrence and without any harm.

With atypical seizures, be cautious that the person may fall due to the decrease in muscle tone. Help cultivate a safe environment by removing any objects that could cause a risk for injury. Similar to typical absence seizures, the person may regain consciousness with a lack of memory of the seizures and could experience fatigue.


“Absence Seizure – Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic,  , 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/petit-mal-seizure/symptoms-causes/syc-20359683. Accessed 20 Dec. 2020.

Atypical Absence Seizures | MedLink Neurology. Medlink.com. Published 2019. Accessed

February 8, 2021. https://www.medlink.com/article/atypical_absence_seizures

Absence Seizures. 2020, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/epilepsy/absence-seizures. Accessed 20 Dec. 2020.

“Absence Seizure.” Mount Sinai Health System, 2016, www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/absence-seizure. Accessed 20 Dec. 2020.


Description automatically generated with low confidence

Read More