Absence Seizures In Adults: Symptoms and Consequences

Absence seizures in adults are often extremely limiting. You can learn more about them in this article.
Absence Seizures In Adults: Symptoms and Consequences

Last update: 06 April, 2022

Absence seizures are often confused with daydreaming. However, in adults, they’re far from mere daydreams. In fact, they have a characteristic cerebral correlation. Nevertheless, the diagnosis is often complicated, since the symptoms that are directly observed tend to be ambiguous. That’s because they can easily be confused with episodes of self-absorption.

In this article, we’ll explain these crises, so you’re able to identify them more directly and easily. As a matter of fact, it’s extremely important to be alert to this type of absence, especially in older adults. Let’s take a look.

Absence seizures

worried man
There are two types of absence seizures: typical and atypical.

An absence seizure is a period of sudden and brief loss of consciousness. During this time, the sufferer seems to stare at nothing for a few seconds, and then return to their normal level of alertness, without any physical injury.

Absence seizures are more common in children than adults and, in the latter, they often require medical attention. In fact, these crises usually correct themselves in adolescence, so their presence in adulthood usually indicates problems that require diagnosis and treatment.

Depending on the duration and characteristics of the crisis, two types are differentiated: typical and atypical. Let’s take a look at them in detail:

  • Typical. These are the most common. The sufferer interrupts the action they were performing and appears to have gone blank. It usually lasts less than ten seconds.
  • Atypical. These last more than ten seconds and usually include more varied movements and symptoms, such as rubbing the fingers.


Absence seizures are caused by abnormal activity in the brain. They tend to be of generalized onset (that is, they affect both cerebral hemispheres) and usually only affect the level of consciousness and not muscle tone.

Although seizures are usually the result of abnormal electrical patterns in neurons (such as repeating firings in three-second loops), they can also be caused by the chemical disruption of neurotransmitters. Hence, a diagnosis by a professional is necessary.


The most striking symptom is the lost look that lasts about ten seconds. This is often confused with inattention (more so in the case of children), but, if you look closely, you can identify other signs:

  • Unlike other seizures, there’s no subsequent disorientation. Also no headache or drowsiness.
  • Sometimes, a movement is interrupted without loss of balance. For example, if the sufferer reaches for a glass of water and freezes midway.
  • In some cases, small movements are observed, such as tongue clicking, eyelid fluttering, chewing movements, finger rubbing, or hand tics.
  • Post-episode amnesia.

The consequences of absence seizures

Tired woman waking up
Absence seizures are caused by brief abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Although absence seizures are disorders of consciousness, they don’t cause brain damage. However, a person may fall during an attack which may cause anxiety if they don’t understand what’s happening to them.

On the other hand, if the absences are extremely frequent, there’s a risk that the sufferer will lose track of what they were doing. These constant interruptions in activity can be rather restrictive in certain contexts, such as study or work.

Diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose absence seizures, a battery of tests is required. Anamnesis and the electroencephalogram (EEG) are the most important. With the results of this last test, it’s easier to see the pattern of brain electrical activity and its possible anomalies.

Once it’s established that what’s happened has been a seizure and not another phenomenon, the most common intervention is based on the administration of anticonvulsants. The patient will be asked to see a doctor again if the crises reappear or worsen.

If you’re reading this article because you think you may be experiencing absence seizures, remember that the data included here is merely informative. Therefore, if you have any doubts about your state of health (especially, if it’s affecting your day-to-day life), remember to go to your trusted doctor. They’ll be able to carry out an evaluation in accordance with your own circumstances.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Carrera-García, L., Málaga-Diéguez, I., Blanco-Lago, R., Díaz-Baamonde, A., Santoveña-González, L., & González-Rato, J. (2017). Ausencias sintomáticas, la etiología menos conocida de las crisis de ausencia. Rev. neurol.(Ed. impr.), 263-267.
  • Mauri Llerda, J. A., Tejero Juste, C., Íñiguez, C., & Morales Asín, F. (2001). Utilidad de la lamotrigina en el tratamiento de las crisis epilépticas de ausencia. Rev. neurol.(Ed. impr.), 247-250.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.