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of everyone affected by epilepsy

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.


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 19 comments or add yours


I have had episodes throughout my life when I have felt confused and not able to think straight. I have made a successful life, good job family etc. I have found these episodes annoying and I thought I was a bit crazy. I went to see my Dr who sent me to see a specialist, mainly because my father and brother are epileptic. The Dr and the specialist did not think there was anything wrong. I went to see specialist today for results of eeg and I have been told I have epilepsy and I must surrender my licence! This has devastated me as I have not had any fits and my job as a midwife means I need to drive. What am I to do?

Submitted by marion greenbank on

Hi Marion
Thanks for your message. It must have been really upsetting to find out that you have epilepsy and that you have to surrender your driving licence.

When you have epilepsy you are covered by the Equality Act. This means your employer must make reasonable adjustments to allow you to do your job. This could include switching you to duties that don’t involve driving, or making sure you can go to appointments with another member of staff who can drive. If you need to get taxis to and from and during work you might be able to get help with the cost of this through the Access to Work scheme.

I can understand it must feel frustrating that you have to surrender your licence when you say you’ve not had any fits. Although you’ve not had full blown tonic-clonic seizures, it’s possible that the episodes of confusion you’ve had were focal seizures. You may be able to get your driving licence back in the future if you become seizure free. We have more information about epilepsy and driving.

If you have any questions or you’d like to talk anything through feel free to get in touch.

Best wishes
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Grace, Epilepsy... on

I have just been diagnosed as Epileleptic after my third seizure, I had two 9yrs ago and one last Saturday after getting off of a plane, I am a Scaffolder of 35 yrs and I am struggling to cope with this diagnosis, I can't believe it's happened to me and I don't understand why, the last two years have been difficult I've had a marriage breakdown and I was forced to sell my dream house of which I've lived and built for 26 yrs, stress is an excuse I've heard thrown about to cover a range of things can it cause epilepsy

Submitted by Wayne Fletcher on

Hi my daughter has had 4 seizures and only had a EEG they said as this is normal she don't have epilepsy but has started her on 100mg of epilepsy medication. My child has not had a MRI and they specialist has not took in to account family history of epilepsy. I am worried as to why she's giving my child a 100ml dose of epilepsy medication if she's so insistent that it's not epilepsy
I believe she has epilepsy and her sibling also has seizures and the specialist isn't taking this in to account either
Please help with any advice

Submitted by karen on

Dear Karen
This sounds very confusing. If you haven’t already, try talk to the doctor again. Ask them to explain what they think is happening and why they have put your daughter on epilepsy medicine. They may be able to reassure you.

An EEG only shows what is happening in your daughter’s brain at the time the test is being done. It’s not able to show what has already happened or what is going to happen in the future. So, if there is no epileptic activity in her brain at the time the test is done, the EEG will show clear results. Even though she may still have epilepsy.

It’s important the doctors take an interest in family history as some types of epilepsy and seizures run in families. We have more information on our inheritance webpage.

If you are still unhappy, talk to your GP about your concerns and ask about other options for your daughter. This may include getting an opinion from a different epilepsy specialist.

If you wish to make a complaint about your care and treatment from your hospital, contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) or the NHS Trust responsible for that hospital.

You can find details of these organisations through the NHS Choices

Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

I don't know what is wrong with me and my doctor hasn't found out either. I am 51 years and so far have had a CT scan came out fine. I just had a sleep deprived EEG and don't have the results yet. So far my Neorologist seems to think that the pain medicine I have been taking for years is causing all these weird symptoms.. I have chronic pain and have never had any problems from taking my pain medicine and not sure why this could be causing me to fall down for no reason, have shaky hands, feel confused and forget what I am supposed to be doing at the time. I forget things even at the time even in the middle of a conversation? I also have Bi-polar and taken many medications to keep control of my symptoms I have never experienced any of these symptoms that I have been happening for 6 or so months I can remember how long. My hands are trembling right now even before I started typing and this note. I had Brain Anuerysm Surgery just over a year. I am wondering if something can later cause problems after this thyyp of surgery?
I have so many weird symptosmso I am hoping that the results of the eeg test will tell what is wrong with me. My doctor also seems to thinks that my random falling could be caused by problemswith my spine? I had a MRI of my entire spine recently and also don't have there results.'.
I am assuming since I have not heard from my Nurouolgist about either test that they came out fine or not fine but are not a emergency I don't know what and it is driving me crazy. I am positive my pain meds are not causing my symptoms.
I am worried I may have epilepsy? or some other condition if so that it can be fixed or meds will fix

Submitted by Bonnie on

From the beginning at the age of 16 i was diagnosed with epilepsy im now 33 ive been clear for 2 years, i do shake but i think that is something to do with my nerves but anyway i went for a MRI scan back in 2016 and it all came back clear i am on meds, lamotrogine 100mg twice a day and epilim chrono 300mg twice a day, i dont know if im taking these for nothing and they are messing my nerves up, my doctor dont know whats wrong with me, whether i have it or not i think personally i am taking my tablets for nothing im not getting any answers that i would like to hear whether its negative or positive, i would just like to know whether im taking these meds for a reason, i do get tired alot lately i have been tested for diabeties but that came back clear, i would be so grateful if you could give me some info concerning this matter. thankyou

Submitted by kate on

Dear Kate 

Thank you for your question. 

We’re trained epilepsy advisers but we’re not medically qualified. This means we can’t suggest a diagnosis for your symptoms. It would be best to ask your family doctor to refer you to see a neurologist. They could review your epilepsy, your epilepsy medicine and the shaking you are experiencing.    

If it will help to discuss this further with one of our Advice and Information Officers please phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.  



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I find this page so helpful! My boyfriend had an incident in which it is not clear if he had a seizure or just passed out (no one witnessed this), it was his first one and he is 34, nothing since! He had pneumonia at the time which he did not know!!! He has been fine since! Had clear bloods and a clear mri! He has just recieved information through his gp (the neurologist didnt bother to contact him) that even though he has had only one possible seizure, because of his eeg he has epilepsy! To me this doesn't sound right because i thought an eeg couldnt diagnose epilepsy! Any help??

Submitted by Rea on

Hi Rea
Thank you for your question. It must have being a shock getting your boyfriends diagnosis from his EEG but it can happen.
It is possible for epilepsy to be diagnosed if epileptic activity is picked up on the EEG.
People with some types of epilepsy have unusual electrical activity in their brain all the time, even when they are not having a seizure. When they have an EEG test, the results can show certain brainwave patterns that doctors recognise. This information is very helpful for doctors when they are making a diagnosis. If you haven’t already, you may also wish to view our webpage EEG tests and epilepsy.
It’s not clear if your boyfriend is still expecting to see his neurologist at a later date. In most cases when someone is newly diagnosed they continue seeing their neurologist whilst treatment is started and they are on a dosage of their medicine that is expected to control the epileptic activity. If your boyfriend doesn't have a follow up appointment with the neurologist, he could ask his GP to refer him back.   
If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us 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.
Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

My mother became unconscious one night and her body was rigid and shaking . After 3 min she regained her consciousness but was weak and slept whole night. She also did vomiting . We did ct scan , ecg and blood test everything's normal. Can she gave epilepsy?

Submitted by Shyamoleema on

Hi Shyamoleema 

Epilepsy is defined as having more than one seizure. So if your mum has only ever had this one seizure then she may not have epilepsy. 

But it is quite usual for someone to have a clear set of tests and still have epilepsy. So having more than one seizure would make a diagnosis of epilepsy more definite.

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.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

My 64 yr old husband had a night time seizure (thrusting and gasping for breath hyperventilating? He was not responding to me for about 1.5 mins after which he was very tired. 6 months later the same thing exactly when he,d gone to bed and it happened about half an hour later. He is a very anxious person very fit otherwise my question can anxiety play a part in seizures??

Submitted by Gwen on
Hello Gwen
This sounds like a difficult situation to find yourself in.
It is recognised that stress can be a seizure trigger for some people who have epilepsy. Although this is not anxiety, if your husband’s anxiety was causing him stress then it is possible that this may make a seizure more likely for him.
I have included a link to some information about stress which may be useful for him. You may both also find it helpful to get in touch with an organisation such as Anxiety UK who may be able to offer him some guidance and support.
It is difficult to tell from your message whether your husband has been diagnosed with epilepsy or not. If he has not then it would be a good idea for him to talk to his GP about what happened and to ask for referral to a specialist doctor. This is usually a neurologist. The neurologist can then explore why this may have happened and check whether any treatment may be recommended.
If you would like to talk about this, or if we can be of any more help, please feel free to get in touch.
Epilepsy Action Advice & Information Team
Submitted by rich on

Hi my partner ov 7 years kids daddy has just died from him second seziour now im absoulty petrified my anxiety is going to make me fit as i feel my brain shaking inside my head :(

Submitted by Debbie Plews on

Hi. I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s really understandable that you’re feeling anxious. You might want to talk to your family doctor about that. They may have suggestions about what could help you through this difficult time.

Also SUDEP Action is an organisation which supports people who have lost someone due to an epilepsy-related death. You may find it useful to talk to someone there. The helpline number is 01235 772850.

I really hope things ease for you over time.



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I have been having seizures for the last 3 years. The first time it happened, I was taken into hospital with suspected TIA. I was referred to a stroke clinic , had carotid artery scan and head scan .
The head scan revealed stroke activity which has left scar tissue on my brain
. A few months ago I suffered several more seizures. I also suffered one straight after the other ( my seizures only last a few minutes if that). I can usually tell when a seizure is about to happen - my jaw locks up on one side and I am unable to speak before a I go into jerking spasms on my right side. It is very frightening and I am fully conscious. When I recover, I am very confused and my memory is not too good for a little while .
Anyway, after the last episode I was back in hospital and head scan revealed no evidence of stroke / TIA . I had an appointment with consultant Monday and he has put me on Keppra but has not actually diagnosed me with epilepsy. Is this normal practice- to put someone on anti - seizure meds without epilepsy diagnosis . I know I should have always asked but just didn't think. Is there s likelihood that I do have epilepsy?

Submitted by Linda on

Hi Linda

Neurologists often prescribe epilepsy medicine to people who have had a stroke. Sometimes they will do this even if a person has had no seizures. They do this to prevent the possible risk of someone having a seizure who has also had a stroke. 

It is very possible your seizures were epileptic, because of your stroke. And epilepsy is defined as having more than one epileptic seizure. But I can understand you wanting to check this. Hopefully your neurologist will clarify this with you next time you see them. Meanwhile here is some information from the Stroke Association about seizures and epilepsy: http://www.stroke.org/we-can-help/survivors/stroke-recovery/post-stroke-conditions/physical/seizures-and-epilepsy

Hopefully you’ll find that useful. 



Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I have had seizures for 20 years and ended up in hospitals in Europe where I had been working but never got diagnosed. Then 10 years ago I was staying with my sister and had a seizure in front of her, bit my tongue badly and when I regained consciousness I was confused and violent which I never am normally. I remember nothing. I was taken to hospital and released after a few hours and had another seizure an hour later and taken back to hospital where I got a head CT. I took Epilim but found it difficult to work and let it slide. I've had the occassional seizure since but on Sunday I was in a hotel room on my own. I remember 6PM, then waking up on the floor at 10PM having been incontinent, badly bitten my tongue with blood on the carpet. I stayed awake and remember 2AM and then I woke up at 6AM slumped on the bed with the other side of my tongue bitten. I phoned my sister to say I think I had 2 seizures and I kept asking her what time it was then, apparently, I made what my sister called "that funny noise" and she knew I was having another seizure. She called the hotel manager which took a while and they entered the room and I was confused and aggressive with blood everywhere. I ended up in hospital for a week with head CT, chest CT and brain MRI. I'm on Keppra now and I remember nothing. It's so humiliating having these episodes in front of people and knowing nothing.

Submitted by Peter on