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What is Epilepsy and How is it Diagnosed

Updated on October 22, 2009

What is Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a medical disorder in which there are sudden bursts of electrical activity in your brain. These bursts are called seizures. They are like electrical storms in your brain. Seizures upset normal brain functions and can cause you to briefly lose control over your feelings and behaviors. Seizures usually last from a few seconds to a few minutes, and typically do not cause brain damage or hurt.

You will not be diagnosed with epilepsy unless you have had more than one seizure. A diagnosis of epilepsy means that you are having repeated seizures. (See below for diagnosing epilepsy.)

Epilepsy is not a mental or psychological illness, contagious, or a reason not to have a total great and normal life. People with epilepsy can live an active life once they have found a treatment plan that works for them.

There are many different types of seizures that you should be aware of, especially if you or someone you know has started having seizures. It's something that your doctor will ask you about when you tell him about the seizures. You'll need to be able to tell your doctor what kind of seizures you're having, or at least what you're experiencing when you're having the seizures, so that he can best diagnose you and find the best treatment plan for you.

Diagnosing Epilepsy

When diagnosing epilepsy, it may take some time. There isn't one single test that will determine if epilepsy is the cause of your seizures, as seizures can be caused by other things such as infection and high fever. Your doctor will ask you many questions and will perform a number of tests in order to properly diagnose the disorder so that proper treatment can be started.

Generally, epilepsy isn't going to be the diagnosis unless you have experienced more than one seizure.

Your doctor will want to know what you were doing before the seizure, and what you felt before, during, and after. If someone saw you having the seizure, they may be able to help you describe what happened. Your doctor will also ask about any illnesses or injuries that you've had int he past and whether anyone in your family has epilepsy.

More than likely, your doctor will want to do a neurological exam of your brain. EEGs and MRIs or CTs are most commonly used to help diagnose epilepsy.

EEG (electoencephalogram)- This test will measure your brain's electrical patterns. technician will use a gel to attach many small disks, called electrodes, to various locations of your head. You don't have to shave your head and the gel will easily wash out. Wires from the electrodes will be connected to a machine that will record your brain waves. During the test, the technician may have you breathe rapidly, open and close your eyes, or look at flashing lights. You will lie quietly during the test.

Your doctor will look at the print-out of your brain waves to see if the patterns suggest that you might have epilepsy. The test will not prove that you do or don't have epilepsy, as some people with the disorder will have normal brain waves and some people without will have abnormal brain waves.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography)- An MRI or CT will provide a scan or picture of your brain. The picture will show the structure of your brain to include any scars, growths, or other physical conditions. To have an MRI or CT done, you will lie quietly on a scanning table that slides into a tunnel-like machine. In some cases, there are vertical MRI tests that your doctor can request if you cannot lie in the tunnel machine.

Depending on the results of the tests, your doctor may request other tests in order to properly diagnose you.


I am not a doctor, physician, or specialist. The information that I have provided is from personal research. For more information, always ask your neurologist form more information.


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