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Petit Mal Seizures and the Potential for Self-Injury

  • Synopsis: Published: 2011-05-29 - A person with epilepsy might experience petit mal seizures as much as hundreds of times in a day - Wendy Taormina-Weiss.

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A person with epilepsy might experience petit mal seizures as much as hundreds of times in a single day.

Petit mal seizures are a form of seizure activity associated with epilepsy that find people experiencing, 'staring spells,' for example. These staring spells are more often referred to as, 'absence seizures,' and last around fifteen seconds or so, involving a disturbance of the person's brain function. The seizures are caused by uncommon electrical activity in the person's brain.

Unlike my husband, petit mal seizures often occur in people with epilepsy who are under the age of twenty - usually in children who are between the ages of six and twelve years of age. Absence seizures may be the only form of seizure a person experiences, although they might also occur in conjunction with other forms of seizures. These seizures can include gran mal seizures, atonic seizures - where a person suddenly loses their muscle strength, or something referred to as, 'myoclonus,' which involves jerks or twitches in a person's muscles.

The majority of petit mal seizure activity lasts for a few seconds. Most petit mal seizures do involve absence spells, although myoclonus is a form some people experience as well; my husband among them. A person might stop talking in the middle of a sentence, or stop walking; then start again a few seconds after they stopped. Usually, the person doesn't fall and they are thinking and wide-awake immediately after they experience a petit mal seizure.

A person with epilepsy might experience petit mal seizures as much as hundreds of times in a single day. The seizures may happen for weeks or even months before anyone even notices and can interfere with their lives. Sometimes petit mal seizure activity is mistaken for misbehavior, or a lack of attention. In children, these forms of seizures can interfere with the learning process and a child's ability to function in school. In fact, difficulties with learning in school may be a parent's first indication of their child's petit mal seizure activity.

How long has my husband experienced petit mal seizures? Most likely since the heat stroke he experienced. What is known is the number of times he has harmed himself unintentionally due to the petit mal seizures he experiences. Two days ago, he had a petit mal seizure in the form of myoclonus while wiping off the kitchen counter. He had grabbed the sugar bowl, a crystal one,' while he wiped underneath it. His right arm and hand twitched as it does during a petit mal seizure, the sugar bowl hit the counter and broke, and he ended up cutting his wrist on the crystal. He now has three stitches in his wrist.

How many others who have petit mal seizures have also experienced unintentional self-injuries due to them? There are no numbers tracking these injuries that I am aware of. Tom's doctor at the Veterans Administration, Dr. Salter, has increased his epilepsy medication in the hopes of, 'fine-tuning,' his control over the petit mal seizures he experiences. Doing so would certainly make me feel more comfortable with him handling things such as knives and glass drinking containers.

The symptoms of petit mal seizure activity might include a number of things where muscle activity is concerned. These things include:

  • No movement at all
  • 'Smacking,' of the person's lips
  • Fluttering of the person's eyelids
  • Chewing - particularly during longer seizures
  • A fumbling of the person's hands, particularly during longer seizures

People who are experiencing petit mal seizures can also have changes in their consciousness. These changes can involve several things such as:

  • Unintentional staring episodes
  • A Sudden halt in conscious activity
  • The person may have no memory of seizure
  • A Lack of awareness of their surroundings

Petit mal seizures referred to as,'atypical,' start more slowly and last longer. They can have more noticeable muscle activity involvement than, 'typical,' petit mal seizures and the person usually has no memory at all of the seizure. Atypical petit mal seizures might last from a few seconds to minutes in length and involve a period of time when the person's behavior is confused or bizarre. Atypical petit mal seizures may change into a different form of seizure, such as an atonic seizure, or a gran mal seizure.

When Tom and I first met years ago, the impression that crossed my mind was that the myoclonic petit mal seizures he experiences resemble a sort of, 'super tremor.' A tremor is a type of involuntary shaking movement, usually involving a person's arms and hands; although it can affect any part of a person's body. The difference is that the myoclonic petit mal seizures Tom experiences often involve fluttering of his eyelids, as well as a sort of rubbing of his lips. When his medication level is insufficient, he also experiences absence seizures where he simply stares for a period of several seconds.

When your loved one with epilepsy who experiences myoclonic or absence seizures does have a seizure, be aware of the potential for unintentional self-injuries. While three stitches is not all that big of a deal, it is important to maintain as high a level of medication control over seizure activity as possible to prevent potential injuries.

Related Information:

  1. Facts and Myths About Epilepsy
  2. Detecting Epileptic Seizures
  3. Epilepsy - Comments on the Experiences of Adria Gross


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