Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology

Living Edition
| Editors: Jeffrey Kreutzer, John DeLuca, Bruce Caplan

Petit Mal Seizure

  • Kenneth R. Perrine
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-56782-2_1052-2



A petit mal seizure is the lay term for an absence seizure. It is called “petit mal” (“small illness” in French) to distinguish it from a grand mal (“big illness” in French) generalized tonic-clonic seizure. The term “petit mal” is actually a misnomer because absence seizures can occur with other seizure types in more debilitating disorders (e.g., Lennox-Gastaut syndrome). To further complicate classification, many patients will use the term “petit mal” when describing complex or simple partial seizures (focal seizures with or without retained awareness/responsiveness),1 myoclonic seizures, or other seizure types that are not as dramatic as the generalized tonic-clonic seizure that the public usually pictures as a seizure. It is more accurate to use the term to avoid ambiguity.

Current Knowledge

See chapter “Absence Seizure.”



  1. 1.

    The International League Against Epilepsy suggested new terminology for seizure types (Berg et al. 2010). These new terms have not yet been fully adopted but are given in parentheses.

References and Readings

  1. Berg, A. T., Berkovic, S. F., Brodie, M. J., Buchhalter, J., Cross, J. H., van Emde, B. W., Engel, J., French, J., Glauser, T. A., Mathern, G. W., Moshe, S. L., Nordli, D., Plouin, P., & Scheffer, I. E. (2010). Revised terminology and concepts for organization of seizures and epilepsies: Report of the ILAE commission on classification and terminology, 2005–2009. Epilepsia, 51(4), 676–685.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Wyllie, E. (Ed.). (2015). Wyllie’s treatment of epilepsy: Principles and practice (6th ed.). New York: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Neurological SurgeryWeill Cornell MedicineNew YorkUSA