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.
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 2017To be reviewed May 2020