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.
Seizure - petit mal; Absence seizure; Seizure - absence
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
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:
Occur many times a day
Occur for weeks to months before being noticed
Interfere with school and learning
Be mistaken for lack of attention or other misbehavior
Unexplained difficulties in school and learning difficulties may be the first sign of petit mal seizures.
During the seizure, the person may:
Stop walking and start again a few seconds later
Stop talking in mid-sentence and start again a few seconds later
The person usually does not fall during the seizure.
Immediately after the seizure, the person is usually:
Unaware of the seizure
Specific symptoms of typical petit mal seizures may include:
Changes in muscle activity, such as no movement, hand fumbling, fluttering eyelids, lip smacking, chewing
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.