Silent Seizure Disorder

Updated February 21, 2017

Silent seizures, also called absence seizures or petit mal seizures, are brief periods of inactivity that appear like a staring spell. The disturbance normally lasts 15 seconds or less and is due to abnormal activity in the brain. The seizure commonly afflicts people 20 years or younger, but older adults may also experience them.


Silent seizure symptoms may include staring, chewing, lip-smacking, fluttering eyelids and hand fumbling. Other symptoms may include an abrupt stop to talking or moving, lack of awareness, and full consciousness after the episode, but no memory of the seizure.


Silent seizures, or staring spells, can occur up to hundreds of times a day, according to the National Institute of Health. These seizures can go unnoticed for a long period of time and be mistaken for misbehavior or a learning disability. Although silent seizures are short, they can also be dangerous. Losing awareness of your surroundings even for a short time such as when driving or swimming can be fatal.


Your doctor will perform an EEG, or electroencephalography, that measures electrical activity in the brain. Small electrodes are placed on the scalp and brain waves are transmitted to the EEG machine. Flickering lights might be shown to provoke a seizure and the difference in brain waves will appear on the machine. An MRI brain scan will produce images of the brain and will rule out tumours or stroke.


Treatment for silent seizures will begin with medications such as Zarontin and Lamictal. Your doctor will normally start at the lowest dose and increase dosage if needed. It may take several months before finding the right dosage. Taking doses at a regular time each day is important to keep medication levels the same throughout the day. Female patients wishing to conceive will want to discuss medication with their doctor as drugs containing valproic acid such as Lamictal has been associated with complications during pregnancy.


Wearing a medical alert bracelet may help with identification of medical conditions during emergencies. Parents should make teachers and coaches aware if their child experiences silent seizures. Take medication correctly and do not stop taking the drug unless instructed by your doctor. Proper medication dosage is vital in keeping seizures from occurring. Limiting alcohol consumption and managing stress may help in lowering risk of seizures. Not getting enough rest or sleep can also trigger seizures. Contact the Epilepsy Foundation at (800) 332-1000 for support groups in your area.

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Constance Barker, located in the hills of southern Ohio, is the owner and writer of several financial, credit report and travel websites. She started writing in 1999 for private clients and began creating website content in 2004. She gained expertise in home improvement after she and her husband built their home themselves.