Petit mal seizure

Petit mal seizure

Description, Causes and Risk Factors:

Obsolescent term for a cerebral seizure not manifested by tonic-clonic movements (i.e., grand mal); formerly thought to be the clinical manifestation solely of a 3-s. spike in wave pattern, as seen on electroencephalography, but now known to be associated with several different EEG patterns.

Petit mal seizure involves a brief, sudden lapse of consciousness. Petit mal is more common in children than adults. Someone having petit mal may look like he or she is staring into space for a few seconds.

Often, no underlying cause can be found for petit mal. Many children appear to have a genetic predisposition to them. Sometimes hyperventilation can trigger petit mal. In general, seizures are caused by abnormal nerve cell (neuron) activity in the brain. The brain's nerve cells normally communicate with each other by sending electrical and chemical signals across the synapses that connect the cells. In people who have seizures, the brain's usual electrical activity is altered. During petit mal, these electrical signals repeat themselves over and over in a three-second pattern. People who have seizures may also have altered levels of neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers that help the nerve cells communicate with one another.

Compared with other types of epileptic seizures, petit mal appears mild. But they can be dangerous. Children with a history of petit mal must be supervised carefully while swimming or bathing because of the danger of drowning. Teens and adults may be restricted from driving and other potentially hazardous activities.

If your child's teacher complains that your child is not paying attention, tunes out or always daydreams, ask the teacher whether your child shows other symptoms. For example, does your child:

    Stare straight ahead at the chalkboard.

  • Blink repeatedly.

  • Twitch while daydreaming.

Request that the teacher write down a detailed description of your child's symptoms. Have the teacher estimate how long each episode lasts and the number of episodes per day. Once you have this description, check to see whether you notice any of these same behaviors at home. Then call your doctor to discuss the situation.

Most children with petit mal seizure eventually outgrow the condition without complications. With proper treatment, the child can have a normal life at school and at home. In most cases, there is no long-term effect on brain development, brain function or intelligence.


Signs and symptoms include:

    Vacant stare.

  • Absence of motion without falling.

  • Lip smacking.

  • Eyelid flutters.

  • Chewing motions.

  • Hand movements.

  • Small movements of both arms.


The doctor will review your child's medical history, including:

    Any history of birth trauma.

  • Serious head injury.

  • Infections involving the brain, such as encephalitis or meningitis.

  • Detailed description of the seizures.

Blood tests can help rule out other potential causes of seizures, such as a chemical imbalance or the presence of toxic substances. Other tests may include:

    Electroencephalography (EEG). This painless procedure measures waves of electrical activity in the brain. Brain waves are transmitted to the EEG machine via small electrodes attached to the scalp with paste or an elastic cap. Your child may be asked to hyperventilate or look at flickering lights, an attempt to provoke a seizure. During a seizure, the pattern on the EEG is different from the normal pattern.

  • Brain scans. Tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can produce detailed images of the brain, which can help rule out other types of problems, such as a stroke or a brain tumor. This test is not painful, but your child will need to hold still for long periods of time. Talk with your doctor about the possible use of sedation, especially for young children.


If your child has petit mal seizure, the doctor will treat the condition with medication to help control the number of petit mal seizure your child has. They are known as anticonvulsants (also called antiepileptic or antiseizure drugs).

The two most commonly prescribed anticonvulsant medications to treat petit mal seizure are ethosuximide (Zarontin) and valproic acid (Depakene, Depakote). Ethosuximide only prevents absence seizures. Valproic acid is a general anticonvulsant that also is the treatment for tonic-clonic (grand mal), myoclonic and partial seizures as well as absence seizures.

Controlling petit mal seizure can help your child reach his or her full potential at school and home. Once your child begins taking a seizure medicine, treatment usually continues for at least two years.

NOTE: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.

DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


  1. Taryn Kinser

    So wait, can Epilepsy, petit mal epilepsy be temporarily? cause I have epilepsy

    • maisteri

      Epilepsy is a chronic disease and, unfortunately, incurable. Various disorders and conditions (some of which may be treated) not only epilepsy itself may cause petit mal seizures. If there is a brain neoplasm or infection etc. causing the seizures it can be treated successfully and the seizures may disappear.


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