Petit mal seizure

Absence Seizures, Generalized Nonconvulsive Epilepsy, Minor Epilepsy, Akinetic Seizures

What is Petit mal seizure?

Petit mal or absence seizures refer to a type of seizure characterized by decreased responsiveness and a sudden cessation of ongoing conscious activities. Because they are chronic and recurrent, they are considered to be a form of epilepsy.

How is it diagnosed?

History: Petit mal seizures are seen in children and adolescents and rarely in adults. The individual is unaware of the people or activities around them. There is no loss of consciousness, abnormal movements, or loss of postural control, as seen in other seizure disorders. Minor facial twitches, blinking or chewing motions may be observed. These absence seizures may last from a few seconds up to several minutes, and can occur hundreds of times a day. The seizures may be so brief that the individual is not even aware of them. To the casual observer, it may appear that the individual is simply daydreaming or inattentive. The seizure disorder may first be recognized when the child has difficulty in school.

Physical exam: A complete physical and neurological examination usually shows no abnormal findings.

Tests: A recording of the abnormal electrical activity of the brain during the seizures by electroencephalogram (EEG), will show the characteristic activity of petit mal seizures and confirm the diagnosis.

How is Petit mal seizure treated?

The seizures respond well to treatment with anti-epileptic drugs (AED).


Information Brand Generic Label Rating Neurontin Gabapentin Off-Label

Topamax (Topiramate), Klonopin (Clonazepam)

What might complicate it?

About one-third of the individuals with petit mal seizures may also have generalized tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal seizures).

Predicted outcome

Petit mal seizures are usually effectively controlled by medication. Approximately one-third outgrow this seizure disorder, one-third will continue to have only absence seizures, and one-third have grand mal seizures that occur along with the petit mal seizures.


Absence attacks can occur in juvenile myoclonic epilepsy.

Appropriate specialists

Neurologist and neurosurgeon.

Last updated 27 May 2015


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