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Diagnosing epilepsy

This information is relevant to people who live in the UK.

Some other medical conditions can cause symptoms similar to epilepsy. This can make it difficult to diagnose. So, an epilepsy specialist will make a diagnosis based mainly on your symptoms.

You can help the specialist to make a diagnosis by:

  • Taking a detailed diary of your seizures to your appointments. This should show the dates, times and a description of what happened, and how you felt before and after
  • Taking someone with you who has seen your seizures. Alternatively, a written description from someone who has seen your seizures would be really helpful
  • Taking some video clips of your seizures to the appointment, if possible

If you are diagnosed with epilepsy, the specialist should classify it by seizure type and syndrome. A syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms that, added together, suggest a particular medical condition. The specialist and your GP should agree a care plan with you that looks at lifestyle as well as medical issues.

Tests used in the diagnosis of epilepsy

The epilepsy specialist may arrange for you to have some tests at the hospital. These are likely to include EEG tests and possibly an MRI scan. None of these tests can prove that you do or do not have epilepsy. The results of these tests can sometimes give useful information, such as a possible cause of your epilepsy and the types of seizure you have.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)/video telemetry

The EEG machine records the electrical signals from your brain on a computer. During the EEG, an EEG specialist places harmless electrodes on your scalp, using a special glue or sticky tape. The electrodes are then connected to the EEG machine, which records the electrical signals onto a computer. 

MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging)

An MRI scan uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to create pictures of tissues, organs and other structures inside the body, on a computer. It can show if there’s a structural cause for someone’s epilepsy.

The MRI scan isn’t painful, but it can be very noisy. And some people find it very uncomfortable being in a confined space.  The radiographer who does the scan might need to inject you in your hand or arm with a harmless dye. This is to make the tissue and blood vessels show up as clearly as possible. A few people have had allergies to the dye, so the radiographer will ask if you have any allergies first.

You need to keep still while you are being scanned, otherwise the scan picture may be blurred.

The MRI scan can take up to an hour.

Blood tests

You might be asked to have a blood test. This is to check your general health, and to look for any medical conditions that might be causing epilepsy. They can also be used to find out if your seizures could be  caused by another medical condition, such as diabetes, rather than epilepsy.

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 our Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.

Code: 
B004.05

Epilepsy Action would like to thank thank Dr John Paul Leach, consultant neurologist, Southern General Hospital, Glasgow for his contribution.

Dr John Paul Leach has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated May 2017
    To be reviewed May 2020

Comments: read the 7 comments or add yours

Comments

Is it possible to fake an EEG ? My husband told me you can pretend to shake and act like you are having a seizure and that a guy at work always does this so he will always keep his medicade benefits. Can the brain be faked like this ? He does it to get more $$ and less hours he has to work. He brags about it. Could this be true ?

Submitted by Kate Walsh on

Hi Kate

An EEG is a brain scan test done with electrodes. It gives a print out of brain wave patterns. So you certainly can’t fake that.

But I guess it is possible to fake a seizure if the people around you don’t know what a seizure normally looks like.

Regards

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Cherry-Epilepsy... on

My daughter is 4 and since 7th December 17 n the 21st March 18 she has had 13 fits they said yes it's epilepsy she has had her eeg scan n is now waiting for the results which they have but waiting for the paed to review them n give me an appointment if she does have it can they prescribe her anything due to her age.

Submitted by Sarah Ann Burton on

Dear Sarah Ann

Thank you for your question.

If your daughter is diagnosed with epilepsy the most common way to treat it is with epilepsy medicines. Most epilepsy medicine can be prescribed to young children.

If you wish to learn more about childhood epilepsy, you may find the information on our webpage children and young people helpful. We have information to help you as a parent understand epilepsy, and we also have information to help children understand their condition.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact our helpline team directly. You can either email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm. 

Regards 

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I had several CT scans and Eeg done but everything comes back normal as per the doctors evaluation but I still keep having seizures.I was told I was okay. WHAT better steps I should take to know the cause of my seizures.I am having amnesia too. They doubt me and I am lost.who would wish to have this illness to oneself.pls guide me.

Submitted by Margot on

Hi Margot

I’m not surprised you’re feeling a little lost with it. I too am a little confused as to what you have been told. Hopefully this information will help to clarify things a bit.

It is quite common for a person to have a normal EEG and CT and still have epilepsy. Very often there is no obvious cause for a person’s epilepsy.

Epilepsy is defined as recurrent seizures. So on that basis it may be possible that you have epilepsy. I am guessing from what you say that you have not been told you have epilepsy. If you had, you would normally be prescribed epilepsy medicine. And this is what would help to control seizures.

But some people have non-epileptic rather than epileptic seizures. These would not respond to epilepsy medicine. I wonder if this is what the doctor has told you?

My suggestion would be to check with the GP whether you do yet have a diagnosis. If you have epilepsy then you need to be seeing a neurologist or epilepsy nurse. If the neurologist thinks you have non-epileptic or dissociative seizures then you could ask the GP to refer you to a talking therapy.

I hope this helps a little. But If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Regards

 

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Thank you for your response. I AM GRATEFUL. I went back to see my doctor after I read your reply. It somehow validated me and he finally prescribed Kappra. GOD BLESS.

Submitted by Margot on

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