Understanding Absence Seizure -- Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on June 07, 2021

What Are the Symptoms of an Absence Seizure?

Because absence seizures are usually quite brief, tend to strike during times of inactivity, and closely resemble daydreaming or "being off in one's own world," they may pass unnoticed by others and go undiagnosed for some time.

Absence seizures fall into two categories: typical and atypical.

Typical absence seizures begin abruptly, last 10 to 30 seconds, and resolve themselves without complication. The person simply stops in their tracks (and/or mid-sentence), and enters a staring, trance-like state during which they are unresponsive and unaware of their surroundings. They may make fumbling movements with their hands, and there may also be eyelid fluttering, lip smacking, or chewing motions during the seizure. When the seizure passes, the person returns to normal, with no memory of the event and no lingering effects. Generally speaking, typical absence seizures have no discernible cause.

Atypical seizures are similar to typical seizures, except they tend to begin more slowly, last longer (up to a few minutes), and can include slumping or falling down. The person may also feel confused for a short time after regaining consciousness. While the cause of atypical seizures may be unidentifiable, they are sometimes traced to abnormalities in the brain that were present at birth (congenital) or from trauma or injury, or from complications from liver or kidney disease. This type of seizures may continue into adulthood.

Call Your Doctor About Absence Seizures If:

  • You notice that your child is having spells of "being off in their own world" or staring spells or any other behaviors that may indicate absence seizures.
  • Your child's teacher complains that your child is "tuning out" or "always daydreaming" in school. Have the teacher write down a detailed description of your child's behavior, how many episodes they have per day, and how long the episodes last.


Show Sources

SOURCES: The Epilepsy Project. Mattson R,Overview: Idiopathic Generalized Epilepsies, 44 Supplement 2 : 2-6 Epilepsia, 2003.

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