By Lisa Marinelli Smith
How is epilepsy diagnosed?
Experiencing a seizure or watching a friend or family member experience one triggers a range of emotions and questions.
What just happened? Why did it happen? What should I do next?
Diagnosing epilepsy is like solving a puzzle. One test alone cannot determine whether someone has the neurological condition. Instead, doctors rely on multiple tests – physical exams, neurological exams and imaging scans – to put the pieces together.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy is characterized by unpredictable seizures that can lead to other health problems. Epilepsy affects people of all ages and is considered a spectrum condition with a wide range of seizure types and ways to control them.
What is a seizure?
Seizures occur when electrical activity in the brain changes, affecting how neurons send messages to each other. This causes sudden, temporary bursts of electrical activity in the brain, triggering involuntary changes in the body’s moves and functions. The interruption in normal brain activity can also affect a person’s behavior and awareness.
Seizures usually last from seconds to minutes and stop on their own. They can cause:
- Loss of consciousness
- Mental confusion
- Muscle spasms
- Uncontrolled or aimless body movements.
Some seizures are not noticeable, and some are disabling. Just because someone has a seizure doesn’t mean they have epilepsy. Other factors, such as an injury, infection, low blood sugar and alcohol withdrawal, can cause a seizure.
I’ve had a seizure. What’s next?
Please see your primary care provider if you’ve had a seizure. If you went to the emergency department after a seizure, your medical team will provide guidance for the next steps.
Your provider may refer you to a neurologist to look into the causes of the seizure.
For an epilepsy diagnosis, a person must experience two or more “unprovoked” seizures, according to the American Epilepsy Society. In other words, the seizures were not caused by an illness, accident or other reversible medical condition that could explain them.
What tests do doctors use to diagnose epilepsy?
A single test cannot diagnose epilepsy. Instead, the doctor will gather information from a bunch of tests.
First, your doctor will want to know details about the seizure. The person who witnessed it may be able to provide the best information. The doctor will also want to hear what happened before and after the seizure.
Your doctor will perform a physical and neurological exam. You will also need to provide your medical history.
Other tests used to diagnose epilepsy include:
- Complete blood count – Provides information about electrolytes, liver and kidney function to see if a medical disorder could have caused the seizure.
- CT and MRI scans – Imaging scans show detailed pictures of the brain to look for abnormalities, such as tumors, scar tissue or structural problems that could cause seizures or epilepsy.
- EEG (electroencephalograms) – Measures electrical activity in the brain to look for unusual activity. EEGs are the most helpful tool to diagnose epilepsy. Electrodes attached to the head transmit information about brain wave patterns from different areas of the brain. This can tell neurologists where a seizure originated in the brain.
NeuLine Health at home, ambulatory EEG
NeuLine Health gives patients the option of at-home, ambulatory EEGs. Rather than spending three days in an epilepsy monitoring unit at a clinic or hospital, patients can undergo the EEG from the comfort of their home. Being in a familiar setting helps patients relax and is less disruptive to their schedule.
Another benefit of an ambulatory EEG through NeuLine Health is quicker results. NeuLine can often schedule an EEG sooner than an epilepsy monitoring unit can. This saves patients – and their providers – weeks of wondering and waiting for test results. This efficiency can speed up an epilepsy diagnosis or rule it out so providers can look for other reasons that may have caused a seizure.
For more information about at-home, ambulatory EEGs, call NeuLine Health at (844) 212-5321 or visit our website.