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.