During a petit mal seizure, the patient loses consciousness for 10 to 15 seconds and then makes a complete recovery, while a person experiencing a grand mal seizure collapses, loses consciousness and goes into convulsions, explains Mayo Clinic. Petit mal seizures are also called absence seizures, while grand mal seizures are called tonic-clonic seizures.
A person having an absence seizure suddenly stops and stares into space, according to Mayo Clinic. She may also rub her fingers together, smack her lips or flutter her eyelids. Someone witnessing such a seizure may think the person has simply stopped paying attention or is daydreaming. After the seizure is over, the sufferer has no memory of it. The patient has no need for medical attention or special care during or after the seizure.
On the other hand, a patient experiencing a grand mal seizure may experience an aura before the seizure begins, claims Mayo Clinic. She screams, not because she is in pain but because the seizure forces air from around her vocal cords. Incontinence is also common with grand mal seizures. The patient is often unconscious after the seizure's end and confused for a time after she comes to. She is also sleepy and might have a severe headache, though this does not occur with every grand mal seizure.