Signs & Symptoms of Petit Mal Epilepsy

Updated February 21, 2017

Doctors classify petit mal epilepsy---commonly referred to as petit mal seizures or absence seizures---as typical or atypical. The condition is most common in children between 6 and 12 years of age, many of whom will outgrow it by the time they become teenagers, according to the Mayo Clinic. This condition occurs when abnormal brain electrical activity causes a brief brain function disturbance according to MedlinePlus, and most patients will not remember having a seizure.

Muscle Activity

Changes in muscle activity can occur as signs of typical petit mal epilepsy. Some patients simply don't move while having a seizure. During longer seizure spells, patients may exhibit one or more noticeable behaviours---hand fumbling, chewing, fluttering eyelids and lip smacking---according to MedlinePlus.


Changes in consciousness are common symptoms of typical petit mal epilepsy. MedlinePlus reports that patients may experience an acute stop in conscious activity (such as talking and movement), episodes of staring, and/or not being aware of their surroundings. These symptoms begin abruptly, lasting only a few seconds, and patients recover to a full state of consciousness without experiencing any confusion. Flashing lights or hyperventilation---when a patient begins to breathe deeper and more rapidly from panic or anxiety---often cause these symptoms in patients with this condition, says MedlinePlus.

Atypical Symptoms

Atypical petit mal epilepsy symptoms tend to last longer and begin more slowly, exhibiting more muscle activity than typical seizures. According to MedlinePlus, patients may experience unintentional staring, short periods of bizarre behaviour or confusion, a lack of awareness of their surroundings, slower recovery time, acute stop in conscious activity, fluttering eyelids and hand fumbling. Hyperventilation can provoke these symptoms in patients with this disorder as well.

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About the Author

Rose Kitchen is a freelance medical writer pursuing a bachelor's degree in sociology and education. She has a nursing background and is going back to nursing school in September 2011 for her R.N. Kitchen holds a certificate in anatomy and physiology and English and is pursuing certificates in natural and alternative medicine, fitness and nutrition and sports nutrition.