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Childhood Absence Epilepsy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 7, 2024.

What is childhood absence epilepsy (CAE)?

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.

What are the signs and symptoms of CAE?

How is CAE diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's health conditions and what medicines he or she takes. Tell the provider when your child's symptoms began. Describe what your child was doing before an episode began and how long it lasted. Your child may be asked to hyperventilate (breathe hard and quickly) for about 3 minutes. He or she will count out loud while breathing this way. His or her eyes may need to be shut. This kind of breathing may trigger an absence seizure. The seizure will cause your child to stop breathing hard and open his or her eyes. Your child may also need any of the following:

How is CAE treated?

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 can I do to support my child?

What can I do to help manage or prevent my child's seizures?

When should I call my child's doctor?

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.