Petit Mal Seizure

What Is It?

A petit mal seizure, also sometimes known as an absence seizure (from the French, pronounced ob-sawnce), is a form of generalized seizure which typically does not include convulsions. Rather, it is characterized by an alteration in consciousness which leads to a trance-like or catatonic state where the individual appears to be awake but does not react to their surrounding environment or other stimuli.

Because of their subtle symptoms and the lack of overt convulsions, this type of seizure is often under-diagnosed in childhood. However, despite their more subtle presentation, these are a form of generalized seizure which involves both hemispheres of the brain.

What Types of Symptoms Are Typical?

More common in children with epilepsy, petit mal seizure types may often be under-diagnosed initially because the child may just appear to "zone out" or have a staring spell, staring straight ahead and not responding to their environment and stimuli. Although they may appear awake, there is an alteration of loss of consciousness so that they do not experience anything during the seizure, like in other forms of generalized epilepsy including a grand mal seizure.

Although the epilepsy symptoms of these seizures do not include convulsions, there can be subtle "automatisms" during the seizure, such as lip smacking. Because most people associate seizures with convulsions, many parents may not bring these events to their pediatrician's attention initially.

How Is The Diagnosis Typically Made?

As with any seizure, the diagnosis is made both on a combination of the seizure characteristics as well as a follow-up examination. The evaluation generally includes an electroencephalogram as well as imaging studies such as CT scan or MRI.

What Are Some Common Treatments?

Treatments for seizures, including a grand mal seizure or tonic-clonic seizure, vary, but generally consist of some form of anti-seizure medication. Further treatment for the underlying cause of epilepsy varies depending on the disease in question. Patients should discuss appropriate management options with their own treating physicians.

Learn more about epilepsy treatment, including antiepileptic drugs and surgery.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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