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New Onset Absence Seizures in Adults

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What are new-onset absence seizures?

Absence seizures, or petit mal seizures, are a type of epilepsy. Both sides of the brain are affected. A seizure is an episode of abnormal brain activity. You are not aware that the seizure happened. Absence seizures can happen more than 100 times each day. Absence seizures usually do not cause serious health problems. Some people also develop another type of seizure called a tonic-clonic seizure. This is a seizure that causes convulsions. Absence seizures are most common in children and adolescents. They can also start in adulthood. This is called an adult new-onset seizure.

What are the signs and symptoms of an absence seizure?

  • A sudden stop in talking or doing something for a few seconds
  • Blankly staring ahead without being aware of your surroundings
  • Not responding when spoken to
  • Repeated movements, such as lip-smacking or eyelid fluttering
  • After the seizure ends, suddenly continuing the activity you were doing before the seizure started

How are absence seizures diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health conditions and what medicines you take. Tell the provider when the seizures began. If possible, bring someone with you who saw you have a seizure. The person can tell healthcare providers what happened during your seizure, how long it lasted, and how you acted after. Tell your healthcare provider about any family history of seizures and any recent illness or trauma. You may also need any of the following:

  • An EEG records the electrical activity of the brain. It is used to find changes in the normal patterns of brain activity. The EEG may be repeated over time to check how well treatment is working.
  • CT or MRI pictures may be used if absence seizures continue even with treatment. This is done to check for other problems that may be causing the episodes. You may be given contrast liquid to help parts of your brain show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Never enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider about any metal in or your body.

How are absence seizures treated?

Medicines will help control the seizures. You may need medicine daily to prevent seizures. Do not stop taking the medicine unless directed by a healthcare provider.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to help manage or prevent absence seizures?

  • Take the seizure medicine every day at the same time. This will also help prevent medicine side effects. Set an alarm to help remind you to take the medicine every day. Do not stop this medicine without direction from a healthcare provider. If you are a woman, talk to your provider about family planning while you are taking this medicine.
  • Set a regular sleep schedule. Lack of sleep can trigger an absence seizure. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. Keep your room dark and quiet. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are having trouble sleeping.
  • Keep a seizure diary. Write down the dates of the seizures. Include where you were, and what you were doing. Also include anything that happened 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 treatment.
  • Ask what safety precautions to take. Talk with your healthcare provider about driving. You may not be able to drive until you are seizure-free for a period of time. You may need to check the law where you live. Tell your provider about your workplace. He or she can tell you about any safety risks where you work. An example is operating heavy machinery. Also talk to healthcare providers about swimming and bathing safety. You may drown or develop life-threatening heart or lung damage if a seizure happens in water.
  • Talk to others about the seizures. Tell your family members, friends, and coworkers what to expect with the seizures. Make sure everyone knows not to shake or push you to make you respond. Explain that the episode should only last a few seconds and to be patient.

What do I need to know about stopping my medicine?

Your healthcare provider can help you understand and make decisions about continuing or stopping antiseizure medicines. Do not stop taking the medicine until your provider says it is okay. You may need to be seizure free for 18 to 24 months before you can stop your medicine. Seizures might happen again while you stop taking the medicine, or after you stop. Rarely, these seizures no longer respond to medicines. Tests such as an EEG may be useful in helping you and your provider make medicine decisions.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You are confused for several minutes after a seizure.
  • You have an absence seizure in water, such as a swimming pool or bath tub.
  • You are depressed or anxious because of the seizures.
  • Your seizures start to happen more often or last longer.
  • You continue to have absence seizures even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

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