Anyone can have a one-off seizure, but epilepsy is a tendency to have seizures. So you probably wouldn’t be told you have epilepsy unless you have more than one seizure.
When someone first says they think you have had a seizure, you might feel lots of different things. It’s not an easy time. You might think it can’t be true. You might be quite anxious, not knowing what has happened. And your family might be quite anxious too. The sooner you see your doctor, the sooner you start getting answers to your questions.
Talking to your doctor
When you’ve had something that might be a seizure you’ll need to talk about this with the hospital doctor or your GP. They will ask lots of questions about your seizure. They’ll want to know anything you can tell them about how you felt before and after it. It will also be really useful for them to talk to someone who saw you have the seizure. This is because you probably won’t remember much about what happened.
How do doctors diagnose epilepsy?
The doctor will want to know all about what happened to you. They’ll need to check whether there was anything other than epilepsy which may explain what happened to you. When they’ve done that they’ll refer you to a specialist. If you’re under 16 this will probably be a paediatrician. If you’re 16 or over this will usually be a neurologist.
They will probably want you to have a test called an electroencephalogram (EEG) and sometimes they will also ask for a test called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
The EEG involves sticking electrodes on your head. These monitor the electrical activity coming from your brain. It doesn’t hurt at all. A routine EEG test usually takes between 30 and 40 minutes.
The MRI is a scan of your brain using strong magnetic fields and radio waves. You lie on a table and slide into a machine, a bit like a tunnel. The machine takes pictures of your brain and shows if there is anything which may help to explain why you’re having seizures. It doesn’t hurt at all, though it can be quite noisy.
The diagnosis of epilepsy is made by the paediatrician or neurologist listening to the description of the seizure. They will bear in mind the EEG test and MRI. A normal result from these tests doesn’t mean that a person can’t have epilepsy.
If the paediatrician or neurologist decides you do have epilepsy, they’ll usually suggest you take epilepsy medicine.
More information on getting the right care and treatment
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact the Epilepsy Action Helpline on freephone 0808 800 5050.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank epilepsy specialist nurses Neil Williamson at University Hospital Lewisham and Ruth McNulty at St Luke’s Hospital, Bradford for their contribution to this information. They have declared no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.
- Updated June 2018To be reviewed June 2021