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Diagnosing epilepsy

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

If you’ve had a seizure, your GP or the hospital where you attended A&E should arrange for you to see an epilepsy specialist. For adults, an epilepsy specialist is usually a neurologist. This means a doctor who’s an expert in conditions that affect the brain and nerves.

How will the specialist decide if I have epilepsy?

There are a number of conditions that can cause symptoms similar to epilepsy, so it can take a while to diagnose. The epilepsy specialist will make a diagnosis mainly based on your symptoms. They may also arrange for you to have some tests.

A description of your symptoms

Your specialist will want to know as much as possible about what happens to you during your seizures. You can help them 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

Tests used in the diagnosis of epilepsy

Your specialist may also refer you for some tests to help them make their diagnosis. The most common tests are an EEG test and an MRI scan.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

The EEG machine records the electrical signals from your brain on a computer. During the EEG test, 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.  

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan

An MRI scan uses a strong magnetic field to create pictures of tissues, organs and other structures inside the body, on a computer. Some people have epilepsy caused by damage or other problems in their brain, so an MRI scan can check for this.

Other tests

Your specialist might ask you to have some other tests to check your general health and to see if any other conditions may be causing your symptoms. These might include blood tests or a test on your heart called an electrocardiogram (ECG).

What happens if I'm diagnosed with epilepsy?

If the epilepsy specialist diagnoses you with epilepsy, they should tell you what type of epilepsy you have and the name of your seizures. They should also give you information about your treatment options, and about living with epilepsy.


If you would like to know where our information is from, download a copy of this information with references.

Code: 
B004.08

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr John Paul Leach, consultant neurologist at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, for his contribution to this information.

Dr John Paul Leach has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated October 2020
    To be reviewed October 2023

Comments: read the 4 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi my mri showed white matter scars and periventricular signal abnormalities and smaller left hippocampus and slow brain waves on a eeg is this all connected to the seizures that I have ?

Submitted by Rachel walsh

Hi Rachel

I’m sorry but we are unable to answer your question. The results of your MRI and EEG is something your neurologist or family doctor will have to explain to you. After this discussion if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us again. You can contact us directly, either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk  or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Thursday 8.30am until 8.00pm, Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane - Epileps...

hello, as R/N of many years I am looking at on line resources for are staff, hence my undertaking these partly as an update but also to suggest self directed learning for carers, being free can be an added bonus but hence I need to undertake this myself.
Typo on initial page of this section - states ECG performed , you subseequently refer to it as EEG, ECG is not usually part of initial investigations - it is an electrocardiograph, relating to the heart. And could be part of ivestigations but not generally.
Only state this to ensure not confusing readers, the content is very interesting - thankyou

Submitted by Sr. P. Long

Hi

 

Thank you for your feedback. We apologise that we missed it at the time and so there has been a delay in getting back to you.

 

We're pleased you've found our information helpful.

 

Regards

 

Jess

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Jess - Epilepsy...

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