Childhood Absence Epilepsy

What is childhood absence epilepsy?

Absence seizures, also called petit mal seizures or childhood absence epilepsy, is a form of epilepsy in which seizures appear as short, undramatic episodes of a loss of awareness. This condition usually begins between the ages of four and ten and affects children who are otherwise healthy. Patients usually present with staring episodes, accompanied by a sudden loss of awareness that typically lasts between five and twenty seconds. This condition is treated with epilepsy medication. Most children with absence epilepsy will have their symptoms well controlled with medication, and many will find that their seizures alleviate as they get older.

Risks

Absence seizures are a are form of epilepsy. Seizures occurs when there are episodes of uncontrollable and disorganized electrical activity in the brain. This condition is caused by a gene mutation which seems to affect the growing brain, but not the adult brain. For this reason, absence epilepsy often runs in families. The siblings of children with this condition have about a 10% probability of also developing epilepsy. Childhood absence seizures are slightly more common in girls than boys. Absence epilepsy usually begins between the ages of four and ten years old. It is uncommon for absence seizures to begin after age 14.

Symptoms

The symptoms of an absence seizure are short episodes of staring or unawareness which occur several times a day. This may occur mid-sentence, or appear as if the child is daydreaming. During these episodes, there may be other signs such as lip smacking, chewing movements, sighing, eyelid fluttering or small jerks of the head. After the episode, the child has no memory of this period. Some children are first diagnosed when their seizures cause difficulties at school.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made by an experienced doctor or pediatrician based on the symptoms and a description of the seizure. A test called a video-EEG (video- electroencephalography) is often conducted, which involves a test for electrical signs of seizure in the brain (electroencephalography) while the child is videoed in order to observe the seizure characteristics.

Treatment

Absence seizures can usually be well controlled with epilepsy medications. No special treatment is needed during an absence seizure, though it can be helpful to gently touch the child to check if they are having a seizure or daydreaming.

Other names for childhood absence epilepsy

  • absence seizures
  • petit mal seizures