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Childhood Absence Epilepsy


Childhood absence epilepsy (CAE)

is a brain disorder that causes your child to have absence seizures. A seizure is an episode of abnormal brain activity. An absence seizure causes your child to stare without being aware of his or her surroundings. This usually lasts for 5 to 15 seconds. It can continue for up to 30 seconds. The seizure starts and stops suddenly. Your child then goes back to the activity he or she was doing before the seizure. Your child is not aware that the seizure happened. Absence seizures can happen more than 100 times each day. CAE usually starts between 5 and 7 years of age. It may start at 4 years or up to 8 years. Children often outgrow absence seizures. Some children develop another type of seizure called a tonic-clonic seizure. This is a seizure that causes convulsions.

Common signs and symptoms of CAE:

  • A sudden stop in talking or doing something
  • Blankly staring ahead
  • Not responding when spoken to
  • Repeated movements, such as lip-smacking or eyelid fluttering
  • Trouble learning in school

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your child falls or has convulsions (shaking he or she cannot control).
  • Your child is confused for several minutes after a seizure.
  • Your child has an absence seizure in water, such as a swimming pool or bath tub.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child is depressed or anxious because of the seizures.
  • Your child's seizures start to happen more often or last longer.
  • Your child continues to have absence seizures even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


Medicines will help control the seizures. Your child may need medicine daily to prevent seizures. Do not let your child stop taking his or her medicine unless directed by a healthcare provider. Your child may take the medicine for 1 to 2 years, or until tests are normal. He or she will be weaned off the medicine slowly. This needs to be done with a healthcare provider's guidance.

What you can do to support your child:

  • Talk to your child's teachers about classroom behavior. Children with absence seizures sometimes appear to be daydreaming or not paying attention. Explain the absence seizures and how long they usually last for your child. Ask teachers to be patient. Your child needs to be fully aware after an absence seizure before he or she answers a question.
  • Talk to your child's teachers and care providers about the seizures. Tell your child's family members, babysitters, daycare providers, and teachers what to expect with the seizures. Make sure everyone knows not to shake or push your child to make him or her respond. Explain that the episode should only last a few seconds and to be patient. Have care providers contact you if your child has several seizures in a row or they start to last longer.
  • Get learning support for your child, if needed. Your child may have trouble learning because of the seizures. He or she may have trouble concentrating. Memory problems may also happen. A tutor or specialist may be able to help him or her keep up with the class. Talk to your child's school officials about learning support and resources offered by the school.

What you can do to help manage or prevent your child's seizures:

  • Have your child take his or her medicine every day at the same time. This will also help prevent medicine side effects. Set an alarm to help remind you and your child to take the medicine every day.
  • Help your child recognize when he or she is bored. Your child may tend to have absence seizures when he or she is bored. Your child can recognize these times and take action. Help your child make a list of activities he or she enjoys. Examples include drawing, building a toy, or writing a story. Have your child choose an activity from the list when he or she feels bored.
  • Set a regular sleep schedule for your child. Absence seizures may happen more often when your child is tired. A regular sleep schedule will prevent him or her from being tired during the day. Have your child go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. Keep your child's room dark and quiet. Talk to your child's healthcare provider if your child is having trouble sleeping.
  • Keep a seizure diary. Write down the dates of the seizures. Include where your child was, and what he or she was doing. Also include anything your child did during the seizure, such as lip-smacking. Bring the diary with you to follow-up visits with healthcare providers. This may help you and the providers change your child's treatment.
  • Teach your child to be careful during sports. Sports or other physical activities can make your child hyperventilate (breathe hard and quickly). This can trigger an absence seizure. Talk to your child's coach or sports officials about the absence seizures. Your child may need to take a break to slow his or her breathing. Teach your child not to do any activity so hard that it causes hyperventilation.
  • Ask what safety precautions your child should take. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about swimming and bathing. Your child may drown or develop life-threatening heart or lung damage if a seizure happens in water.

Follow up with your child's neurologist as directed:

Your child may need tests to check the level of antiseizure medicine in his or her blood. Your child's neurologist may need to change or adjust his or her medicine. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.