Absence crises in children, what to do?

The child, suddenly, stops doing what he was doing. As if it were frozen. It is short, it hardly lasts a few seconds, but it has its own name: absence crisis. It is a specific type of epileptic seizures that are also known as 'petit mal'. Here we tell you everything you need to know about them.

Absence crises usually start when the children are of school age, usually between four and nine years of age. As they explain from the Spanish Association of Pediatrics, AEP, these episodes are more frequent in girls. It should also be noted that children who are affected by petit mal often have normal exploration and development.


Why do absence crises occur?

Absence crises are due "to a imbalance in brain neurotransmitters (chemical substances that mediate the electrical impulses in the brain), possibly with a genetic basis ", explain the pediatricians, who clarify that these episodes tend to remit with age, although they" need pharmacological treatment for long periods ", they add.

The most striking thing about these absence crises is that the child does not respond if he is called or touched. This is what the experts describe: "these are very brief episodes, of a few seconds duration, in which the child abruptly stops doing what he was doing, as if he were frozen, disconnected."


Sometimes, these episodes "are accompanied by automatic movements and without purpose of the hands (as if manipulating something), from the mouth (as if sucking or swallowing), from the eyes (blinking)", add the pediatricians, who mention that When the episode ends, the child usually does what he was doing "as if nothing had happened". Another feature of these episodes that can give us clues: often repeated many times a day.

How to diagnose the 'Petit mal'?

Pediatricians explain that it is essential that parents have a correct medical history of the child. In this sense, at the time of diagnosis there is something that helps doctors a lot: the existence of home videos in which episodes can be seen. Once there is a well-founded suspicion, the definitive diagnosis comes from the hand of an electroencephalogram in which the characteristic pattern of the absences is demonstrated.


Speaking here of "absences" in general does not make sense, because not all are the same. The ones we have talked about so far are those known as 'typical absences', but there are others, the 'atypical ones', which follow different patterns. The latter "are associated with other more severe epileptic symptoms and may be accompanied by delayed development or cognitive deficit," warn pediatricians.

How to deal with absence crises?

Crises occur at school age, so they can have important consequences on the development and learning of the child. That is why they should be treated with the necessary seriousness. As advised by pediatricians, these episodes are treated with antiepileptic drugs.

The treatment can last between one and two years, depending on the progress of the child and its own characteristics: it will be the pediatricians and specialized doctors who will determine when the withdrawal of the medication can be started gradually, once the episodes are over.

Damián Montero

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