A petit mal seizure is the term commonly given to a staring spell, 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 commonly in people under age 20, usually in children ages 6 to 12. They can occur as the only type of seizure but can also happen along with other types of seizures such as generalized tonic-clonic seizures (also called grand mal seizures), twitches or jerks (myoclonus), or sudden loss of muscle strength (atonic seizures).
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Most petit mal seizures last only a few seconds. Most commonly they involve staring episodes or "absence spells."
The person may stop walking or talking in mid-sentence, and start again a few seconds later. The person usually does not fall. The person is usually wide awake and thinking clearly immediately after the seizure.
"Spells" can be uncommon or occur up to hundreds of times in one day. They may occur for weeks to months before they are noticed, and may interfere with school function and learning. The seizures may sometimes be mistaken for a lack of attention or other misbehavior. Unexplained difficulties in school and learning difficulties may be the first indication of petit mal seizures.
Symptoms of typical petit mal seizures may include:
Atypical petit mal seizures begin slower, last longer, and may have more noticeable muscle activity than typical petit mal seizures. There is usually no memory of the seizure. Symptoms may include:
For more information on diagnosis and treatment, see:
Epilepsy Foundation of America -- www.epilepsyfoundation.org
Seizure - petit mal; Absence seizure; Seizure - absence