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Provide Information to Help the Doctor

If you have had a seizure and you seek medical help, your doctor will want to know:

  • Was the seizure caused by a short-term problem (like fever or infection) that can be corrected?
  • Was it caused by a continuing problem in the way your brain's electrical system works?
  • Is there anything about the structure of your brain that could cause seizures?
  • Was the seizure an isolated event, or does it mean that you have epilepsy?

Diagnostic Methods and Tools

The doctor's main tool in diagnosing epilepsy is a careful

medical history with as much information as possible about

what the seizures looked like and what happened just before

they began. The doctor will also perform a thorough physical

examination, especially of the nervous system, as well as

analysis of blood and other bodily fluids.

A second battery of diagnostic tools include an
electroencephalograph (EEG). This is a machine that records
brain waves picked up by tiny wires taped to the head. Electrical signals from brain cells are recorded as wavy lines by the machine. Brain waves during or between seizures may show special patterns which help the doctor decide whether or not someone has epilepsy.

Imaging methods such as CT (computerized tomography) or

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans may be used to

search for any growths, scars, or other physical conditions in

the brain that may be causing the seizures. In a few research

centers, positron emission tomography (PET) imaging is used

to identify areas of the brain which are producing seizures.

Which tests and how many of them are ordered may vary,

depending on how much each test reveals.

The Decision to Treat

When a child or adult experiences a single seizure, or appears

at the doctor’s office with a history of questionable events that

may or may not have been seizures, the first issue is to

determine what happened, whether a seizure actually took

place, of what type and duration it was, the possible cause,

and the future prognosis.

Once this information is gathered, the next question is whether
to treat the underlying condition (if one has been identified
and if it is treatable), or whether to treat the symptoms by
prescribing antiepileptic (or seizure-preventing) drugs. Find out
more about the decision to treat.

Additional epilepsy information is available on these pages:


Raymond Rybicki, MD

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your specific medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional. Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

The materials provided at this site are for informational purposes and are not intended for use as diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or as substitute for consulting a licensed medical professional. Check with a physician if you suspect you are ill, or believe you may have one of the problems discussed on our website, as many problems and diseases may be serious and even life-threatening. Also note while we frequently update our website's content, medical information changes rapidly.

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