How to spot absence seizures in your child
Absence seizures can go unnoticed
Everyone loses focus sometimes—especially kids. Kids can be full of energy and excitement, so it can be hard to get them to sit still. Even when they’re sitting down, they may daydream or not listen. As the saying goes, “it’s just kids being kids.”
But if your child is having trouble paying attention and remembering things, there could be another reason—an absence seizure.
“Absence seizures are subtle breaks in consciousness that can look like kids aren’t paying attention,” said Jill M. Gotoff, M.D., Geisinger director of pediatric clinical neurophysiology and comprehensive epilepsy program. “It’s essentially a blackout that happens for a few seconds, and then they snap out of it. Absence seizures are a type of epilepsy. They aren’t normally harmful, and most children grow out of them by puberty. But, you should talk to your child’s pediatrician because, untreated, they can affect your child’s life and learning.”
Signs of an absence seizure
“When people think of seizures, they generally think of what used to be called ‘grand mal’ seizures—where people fall to the ground and shake,” said Dr. Gotoff. “But there are other types of seizures that may involve brief staring spells and they are harder to recognize because of their subtle nature.
During an absence seizure, your child may stare blankly or even stop talking mid-sentence. They may flutter their eyelids or make a smacking sound with their lips. In most cases, they won’t fall to the ground. Usually, they will resume what they were doing as if nothing happened and they typically are not aware the seizure occurred.
The only way to confirm a diagnosis of absence seizures is with testing. The electroencephalogram (EEG) is a safe and painless way of diagnosing typical absence seizures.
Some forms of absence seizures can be hereditary but often they occur for no apparent reason in healthy children. Lack of sleep and high levels of stress can also contribute to seizures. Absence seizures are most common in school age children aged 4 to 14.
How absence seizures can affect your child
Absence seizures are caused by irregular activity in the brain, which results in a brief loss of consciousness. Usually absence seizures last no longer than 15 seconds, but that loss of consciousness can make paying attention in school and learning more difficult especially when they occur multiple times a day. Children who have absence seizures may miss things throughout the day and even risk getting hurt.
Absence seizures are not felt to cause any damage to the brain. However, certain activities can be dangerous for children with absence seizures.
“Even if your child is undergoing treatment, you should monitor them during certain activities,” said Dr. Gotoff. “For example, children with absence seizures should be supervised while swimming or bathing.”
Typically, absence seizures can be well controlled with standard anti-seizure medications. The goals of therapy are to control seizures on a minimum of medication to allow children to grow and learn.
The majority of children grow out of absence seizures as they go through puberty. However, about 10 percent of children may go on to later develop other seizure types. Thus it is important to establish a good relationship with your child’s neurologist to follow your child through their course of treatment.
If your child is showing signs of an absence seizure, talk to your pediatrician.
You can book an appointment with a Geisinger pediatrician by clicking here.