Juvenile absence epilepsy (JAE) is a type of epilepsy that causes absence (“ab-SONCE”) seizures. During a seizure, the child will stare and stop what they are doing. They may blink quickly or move their hands. They may look like they are daydreaming or not paying attention. These seizures last only a few seconds.

Children with JAE may also have other types of seizures, especially tonic-clonic seizures. A tonic-clonic seizure is sometimes called a “grand mal seizure.” During a tonic-clonic seizure, the child loses consciousness. Their muscles stiffen. They may fall to the floor. Their arms and usually legs begin to jerk. Sometimes a child will lose control of their bladder or bowel.

Absence epilepsy is sometimes called “petit mal epilepsy.”

Absence Epilepsy Types

There are two types of absence epilepsies in children: JAE and childhood absence epilepsy (CAE). JAE is much less common.

The main difference between JAE and CAE is how often the seizures occur. JAE seizures typically happen less than once a day. CAE seizures occur at least once a day and possibly many times a day.

Juvenile Absence Epilepsy Childhood Absence
  • Seizures begin between 12 and 17 years of age.
  • Seizures don’t happen every day.
  • As many as 80% of patients also have tonic-clonic seizures.
  • Seizures are likely to continue into adulthood.
  • Seizures begin between 4 and 10 years old.
  • Seizures occur every day and often many times a day.
  • Medication often helps control seizures.
  • The child is likely to grow out of CAE by the middle teen years or early adulthood.

When absence seizures begin at age 10 or later, it can be hard to know if the cause is CAE or JAE. If the child has lots of seizures every day, the doctor will probably make a diagnosis of CAE.

Juvenile Absence Epilepsy Causes

Children with JAE are usually otherwise healthy. They typically don’t have a history of neurological, intelligence or developmental problems. Some children with JAE have a family history of similar seizures. But for most children, there is no genetic link. There is not a known cause for the condition.

Juvenile Absence Epilepsy Symptoms

JAE seizures usually involve staring spells. The child is not aware or responsive during these spells. You may also notice:

  • The child’s eyes may roll up briefly.
  • Each seizure episode lasts seconds. The child goes back to normal right away.
  • The child often doesn’t realize a seizure has happened.

A small number of children with JAE epilepsy will have one or more episodes of “absence status epilepticus.” This is when an absence seizure lasts for several hours or even a day or more. Absence status epilepticus is a medical emergency. The child needs “rescue medication” to stop the seizure.

Other Conditions Associated with Juvenile Absence Epilepsy

Most children with absence epilepsy have normal intelligence and development. However, children with JAE can have attention problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Attention issues can continue even when seizures are well treated. These children also have higher rates of anxiety or depression.

Juvenile Absence Epilepsy Diagnosis

Before treatment can begin, your child’s doctor must make an accurate diagnosis. The doctor will ask you to describe your child’s seizures in detail. They will do a physical exam. Your child may need tests, such as:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG). An EEG measures electrical activity in the brain.
  • Medical imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This can help determine the cause of the seizures and rule out other problems, such as a brain tumor or stroke.

Juvenile Absence Epilepsy Treatment

Medication often helps children with JAE get seizure control. Children with both absence and tonic-clonic seizures may need multiple medications to control seizures. The ketogenic diet may be an option for patients whose seizures continue even while taking medications.

Juvenile Absence Epilepsy Prognosis

Children typically do not grow out of JAE. The condition lasts into adulthood. However, many people can control the seizures with medication.