Many people are confused by petit mal seizures. Because most people imagine epileptic seizures to involve falling on the ground and writhing around, they do not realize that simple staring spells can also be seizures. Petit mal seizures are exactly this: short periods of time during which the disturbance of brain function causes a small seizure so subtle it can go unnoticed.
What Does a Petit Mal Seizure Look Like?
When a person has a petit mal seizure, he will suddenly space out for a short period of time, usually for fewer than 15 seconds. The person will suddenly be still and stare. The person will not respond to any stimulus, such as you talking to him. During the seizure, he may fumble with his hands, flutter his eyelids, smack his lips or chew. He may have been mid-sentence when the seizure began, so he may suddenly stop talking and become completely unaware of his surroundings. When he comes out of the seizure, he may not even realize he had a seizure. He will be wide awake and completely aware of his surroundings again. There will not be any memory of events that happened while he was seizing.
What Causes a Petit Mal Seizure?
Petit mal seizures are caused by abnormal brain cell activity in which the electrical transmissions between neurons are disrupted for a short period of time. People who are susceptible to these kinds of seizures may have altered levels of a neurotransmitting chemicals. Vulnerability to petit mal seizures appears to run in families, so there is a possibility that it is inherited. For some people, flashing lights or hyperventilation can trigger these disruptions.
Who Typically Suffers From Petit Mal Seizures?
Most people who have petit mal seizures are children or teenagers, and they outgrow these seizures by age 20. While some people with epilepsy also suffer from grand mal seizures, some children only have petit mal seizures. Physicians have theorized that this may be because there are so many more synapses in the growing brains of children.