Childhood absence epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurrent seizures (epilepsy). This condition begins in childhood, usually between ages 3 and 8. Affected children have absence seizures (also known as petit mal seizures), which are brief episodes of impaired consciousness that look like staring spells. During seizures, children are not aware of and do not respond to people or activities around them. The seizures usually last several seconds and they occur often, up to 200 times each day.
Some affected individuals have febrile seizures before they develop childhood absence epilepsy. Febrile seizures are involuntary muscle contractions (convulsions) brought on by a high body temperature (fever).
In most people with childhood absence epilepsy, the absence seizures disappear in adolescence. However, some affected individuals continue to have absence seizures into adulthood, or they may develop generalized tonic-clonic seizures, which cause muscle rigidity, convulsions, and loss of consciousness, or myoclonic seizures, which are characterized by rapid, uncontrolled muscle jerks.