Typically, this type of seizure lasts between 10 and 30 seconds. The person, most often a child aged 5 to 15, abruptly stops whatever he's doing (talking, walking) and appears to "stare into space." Absence seizures rarely cause a true convulsion in which the person falls down or collapses. Despite briefly losing consciousness, the person recovers fully with no lingering confusion or other ill effects. These "spells" may occur infrequently or several times per hour. In children, absence seizures may interfere with learning and are often misinterpreted as daydreaming or inattention. About a quarter of people who have absence seizures will develop another type of generalized seizure called tonic-clonic seizures (formerly called ''grand mal'' seizures). The vast majority of children, however, will outgrow them.
The risk of recurrence following a single seizure varies from 16 to 81% in various studies. Thirty per cent of patients have mild epilepsy that does not require treatment and remits within a short period; 30% are easily controlled on AEDs; 20% have chronic epilepsy that responds only partially to AEDs and 20% have chronic unremitting epilepsy with little response to treatment.