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petit mal seizure

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Brain structures

Alternative Names
pyknolepsy, Absence seizures

Petit mal seizures are a form of epilepsy, a condition that involves disturbances of brain function that result in seizures. Petit mal seizures can occur many times an hour or day and usually occur in children.

What is going on in the body?
During petit mal seizures, there is a sudden momentary loss of consciousness.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
The seizures may be short and occur in rapid succession. The person loses consciousness, and has a blank facial expression. There may be motor movement, such as eye blinking or rapid jerking of the arms. People having these seizures may drop an object or nod the head, but they rarely fall to the ground. They cannot recall what they have done. Individuals can have dilated pupils, appear flushed or sweaty, and drool. They may also have a loss of bladder control.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
A family history of petit mal seizures, which is having relatives with the condition, is a risk factor.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
There is no known way to prevent petit mal seizures.

How is the condition diagnosed?
The diagnosis is based on the history of the person's seizures. An examination is done to make sure there are no focal or localised abnormalities. The electroencephalogram, or EEG, a machine that records brain waves, may show a distinctive pattern related to seizure activity.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Long-term effects depend on how often seizures occur and on the side effects of medications used to treat the condition.

What are the risks to others?
A sudden loss of consciousness may cause accidents that could put others at risk.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Medicatons, such as valproic acid, ethosuximide or lamotrigine, may be used to treat petit mal seizures.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Any possible side effects depend on the medication used.

How is the condition monitored?
Follow-up is done in the doctor's office. The doctor may order blood tests, such as white blood cell count and liver function studies, to make sure that the medications are not harming any other organ systems. Blood levels are also tested to make sure that the person is getting the right amount of medication.

Author: Tamara Miller, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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