Staring spells in children: Descriptive features distinguishing epileptic and nonepileptic events

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To identify questions sensitive and specific for staring spells of epileptic (absence seizures [AS]) or nonepileptic etiology to increase the yield of history taking.

Study design

A questionnaire was completed by parents of 40 children who presented with staring spells. Results from 17 children with AS and 23 with nonepileptic staring (NES) were compared.


Features with moderate sensitivity (43% to 56%) but high specificity (87% to 88%) for NES included preserved responsiveness to touch, lack of interruption of playing, and initial identification by a teacher or health professional. These features were more frequent in NES than in AS (P = .013, .016, .03). Body rocking occurred only in NES, but sensitivity was low (13%). Features with high specificity (91% to 100%) for AS included limb twitches, upward eye movements, and urinary incontinence; but sensitivities were low (13% to 35%).


In children with normal interictal electroencephalography findings and without neurologic disease, staring spells are most likely nonepileptic when parents report preserved responsiveness to touch, body rocking, or initial identification by a teacher or health professional without limb twitches, upward eye movements, interruption of play, or urinary incontinence. In these cases a diagnosis of NES may be confidently applied, with confirmation based on long-term follow-up. (J Pediatr 1998;133:660-3)

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