• Epilepsy;
  • Typical absences;
  • Absence epilepsy;
  • Early onset;
  • Prognosis

Summary: Purpose: The classification of epilepsies and epileptic syndromes recognizes three syndromes with typical absences [TA, i.e., childhood and juvenile absence epilepsies (CAE and JAE), and epilepsy with myoclonic absences (EMA), none of which is characterized by onset in early childhood]. Although several other forms of absence epilepsies have been described recently, none concerns infants and very young children, and little is known about the nosology and prognosis of early-onset absences.

Methods: We retrospectively selected all cases with onset of absences as the only or major seizure type before age 3 years and ≥2 years of follow-up among cases newly referred between 1986 and 2002. Neurospychological assessments (generally IQ measure), behavior patterns, and schooling situations were reviewed for each child.

Results: We found 10 patients (7 F, 3 M). No child had sensory or motor deficits: neuroimaging was performed in nine and was normal in eight, with aspecfic findings in one. Only two could be characterized as CAE and EMA, respectively, both with seizure control and a good cognitive outcome. Among the remaining eight cases, four had a fairly homogeneous presentation with predominantly brief absences and clearly asymmetric interictal EEGs. All eight had neuropsychological and/or behavioral difficulties. Three had full seizure control, and five, persisting absences, with a follow-up ranging beetween 2 years 8 months to 9 years 4 months; only one child was older than 12 years.

Conclusions: Great heterogeneity exists among absence epilepsies of early onset, which are rare conditions. Only a few patients can be categorized into well-known syndromes. The overall prognosis is poor. Early onset of absences is uncommon, and multicenter studies should help clarify the nosology and prognosis.