Absence crisis: causes, symptoms and treatment

Epilepsy is a neurological disease characterized by the presence of seizures. The seizures that we have the most present in our mind when we talk about epilepsy are those with violent muscle contractions and loss of consciousness.

But it is not the only type of crisis that anyone can suffer. Absence seizures, or minor ailments, are much more discreet and physically harmless, but they also need to be treated..

What is an absence crisis?

Not all absence crises are the same either. Due to their transience, they are often not identified and the parents of children who have them take a long time to realize that their child has epilepsy.

Let’s see how the absence crises manifest themselves and what can be done with those who suffer from it.


Absence seizures are present almost exclusively in children. They are characterized by a short period, usually around 15 seconds, during which the individual suffering from them appears completely distracted and with a lost gaze. As if he was absorbed in his world. Typical signs and symptoms are:

  • Lips
  • fast blinking
  • Motor activity suddenly stops
  • Chewing movements
  • Small two-handed movements

These crises start suddenly, In which the patient stops what he was doing or saying, undergoes the seizure while maintaining the same posture, and when the seizure is resolved, he continues with the activity he was practicing. There is no memory of the episode and you will often be surprised if someone else tells you that you have been empty for a few seconds.

Because children in absence seizures may appear to be just distracted, many parents are confused and believe that the only thing that happens is that they were mentally engrossed in something. The first to notice are usually the teachers, although they can also be confused and talk to parents about how every once in a while the child seems to disconnect from the classroom. If these phenomena occur frequently, it is probably a crisis of absence and not of distraction.

Not all absence crises are the same. Although most start and end sharply and quickly, there is an atypical form of seizure where the symptoms are the same, but start slower and last longer. Also, during the seizure, the person may lose muscle tone or fall, and after the seizure, they will feel very confused.

the causes

In most cases, absence seizures are not manifestations of an underlying disease. The seizures occur simply because the child is predisposed to undergo electrical changes in the brain that cause the episodes. The electrical impulses that neurons use to communicate with each other become abnormal. In the event of an absence seizure, these electrical signals from the brain are repeated in a repetitive pattern that lasts three seconds.

This predisposition to suffer from seizures is probably genetic and passed down from generation to generation. Some children have seizures when they hyperventilate while others suffer from strobe lights. The exact cause of attacks is often unknown, but that does not prevent treatment of the attacks.


Once the child goes through the neurologist, he is likely to confirm the diagnosis by causing a seizure and measuring it by electroencephalogram. Outraged, imaging tests such as an MRI will be needed to rule out other diagnoses which can cause similar symptoms and guarantee that it is a pure absence crisis.

Once the diagnosis is made, children in crisis of absence receive pharmacological treatment. Antiepileptic drugs are usually used, starting with low doses until the dose needed is reached to prevent the onset of further seizures. Some common anti-epileptics are ethosuximide, valproic acid, and lamotrigine. Any of the three active ingredients will be effective and safe, although the preference for one or the other will depend on the characteristics of the particular case.

Certain activities should be avoided in people in absence crisis, as they cause temporary loss of consciousness. For example, riding a bike or swimming can lead to an accident or drowning. Until the seizures are under control, these children (and in some cases adults) should refrain from these activities. There are also bracelets that warn others that they are under attack, speeding up the process in an emergency.


The prognosis for absence seizures is generally positive. Given that approximately 65% ​​of children get rid of epilepsy as they age, we can be optimistic if we combine this data with effective drug therapy. The only risks that exist with this disease are those that are run with the falls which could occur in the event of a seizure, and we know that the seizures which produce them are very infrequent. It is normal for a child to have more than ten seizures a day and never fall to the ground or get hurt.

The brain is also not damaged after the absence seizure, so the only interference can occur in the learning context, where these periods of unconsciousness make it difficult to acquire knowledge. Finally, the drug is perfectly withdrawable as prescribed by a doctor when they have not had a seizure for two years in a row.

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