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.