A petit mal seizure is the term given to a staring spell. It is most commonly called an absence seizure. It is a brief (usually less than 15 seconds) disturbance of brain function due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Petit mal seizures occur most often in people under age 20, usually in children ages 6 to 12.
They may occur with other types of seizures, such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures), twitches or jerks (myoclonus), or sudden loss of muscle strength (atonic seizures).
Most petit mal seizures last only a few seconds. They often involve staring episodes or absence spells. The episodes may:
Unexplained difficulties in school and learning difficulties may be the first sign of petit mal seizures.
During the seizure, the person may:
The person usually does not fall during the seizure.
Immediately after the seizure, the person is usually:
Specific symptoms of typical petit mal seizures may include:
Atypical petit mal seizures begin slower and last longer. Symptoms are similar but muscle activity changes may be more noticeable.
For information on diagnosis and treatment, see:
Seizure - petit mal; Absence seizure; Seizure - absence
Abou-Khalil BW, Gallagher MJ, Macdonald RL. Epilepsies. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 67.
Updated by: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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