Facts About Absence Seizures (Petit Mal Seizures)

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Also known as petit mal seizures, an absence seizure is a sudden lapse of consciousness, often times very briefly. Absence seizures occur mostly in young children, and are defined by "absent minded" staring into space. It may appear as if the child is con

What Are Absence Seizures (Petit Mal Seizures)?

Also known as petit mal seizures, an absence seizure is a sudden lapse of consciousness, often times very briefly. Absence seizures occur mostly in young children, and are defined by "absent minded" staring into space. It may appear as if the child is concentrating on something (for a few seconds), rather than having a seizure.

Although, absence seizures seem rather mild in comparison to other epileptic seizures, that's not to say they aren't dangerous. Due to the high risk of accidental drowning, it is advised that children with a history of absence seizures be supervised at all times when both swimming and bathing. Teenagers and adults should either be supervised while driving and doing other potentially dangerous activites, or restricted from such activities, altogether.

Most young children outgrow absence seizures by adolescense. While other, less fortunate children, never do, as it eventually develops into grand mal seizures.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Absence Seizures?

Signs of absence seizures include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Staring into space
  • Lip-smacking
  • Fluttering eyelids
  • Chewing
  • Hand movements
  • Small movements of both arms

Absence seizures only last a few seconds at a time, and one can experience a full recovery instantly, yet in some people, absence seizures happen very frequently--at an alarming rate of several hundred per day--which makes it difficult to get much done at school or at work. Even though one has no recollection of the event, it can become very distracting when it recurs throughout the day.

Although young children will become briefly unconscious during an absence seizure, they will unlikely fall during the event.

It may take several years before a parent becomes aware of absence seizures in his child, as the signs and symptoms are so mild, physically. A parent's first clue his child may be experiencing absence seizures is a decline in his school work. Teacher may report it as an inability to pay attention.

When to See a Doctor for Absence Seizures

It is not necessary to administer first aid during an absence seizure, for the most part; however, it's good practice to contact your doctor if you're witnessing and/or experiencing absence seizures for the first time, or if you're witnessing and/or experiencing a different kind of symptom. Generally, people who have absence seizures are susceptible to other types of seizures, as well.

If you experience any or all of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention promptly:

  • Automatic behaviors, such as eating or moving without awareness
  • Prolonged confusion

The above mentioned symptoms can be linked to a serious condition called absence status epilepticus. Also, seizures, whatever kind they are, require immediate medical attention if they last longer than five minutes.

What Complications Arise from Absence Seizures?

Often times children will outgrow absence seizures, but there are those whose seizures seem to follow them into adulthood. Eventually, people who have had absence seizures as children will begin to develop full on convulsions, also known as grand mal seizures or, generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

Other complications can include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Learning difficulties
  • Absence status epilepticus, a condition defined by seizures that last longer than a few minutes

Treatments and Drugs for Absence Seizures

Although, pin-pointing the right combination of medications to help control absence seizures can be a matter of trial and error, and often times complex, many medications today can effectively reduce the frequency of absence seizures or even eliminate them, altogether. It is imperative to take these medications on a regular schedule to maintain the proper levels in your blood at all times.

Several medications are prescribed sometimes in conjunction with one another for absence seizures, among these are:

  • ethosuximide (Zarontin)
  • valproic acid (Depakene)
  • lamotrigine (Lamictal)

All help to reduce the frequency of absence seizures or eliminate their occurance, altogether, if taken as prescribed. Your doctor will, at first, prescribe the lowest dosage possible, and then gradually increase the dosage as needed. If after two years, a child is seizure-free, his doctor might be able to ween him off the anti-seizure medications, slowly and with extreme caution.

Women of child-bearing years are advised against taking valproic acid if they're pregnant or trying to become pregnant, as it can threaten the pregnancy and unborn child.

Disclaimer: This article is for consumer educational purposes only. Nothing contained in this article is or should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This article does not constitute the practice of any medical, nursing or other professional health care advice, diagnosis or treatment.

1 comment

lucia anna
Posted on Jan 16, 2011