To diagnose your condition, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may order several tests to diagnose epilepsy and determine the cause of seizures.
Your evaluation for Epilepsy includes:
A neurological exam. Your doctor may test your behavior, motor abilities, mental function and other areas to diagnose your condition and determine the type of epilepsy you may have.
Blood tests. Your doctor may take a blood sample to check for signs of infections, genetic conditions or other conditions that may be associated with seizures.
Your doctor may also suggest tests to detect brain abnormalities, such as:
Electroencephalogram (EEG). This is the most common test used to diagnose epilepsy. In this test, electrodes are attached to your scalp with a paste-like substance or cap. The electrodes record the electrical activity of your brain.
If you have epilepsy, it’s common to have changes in your normal pattern of brain waves, even when you’re not having a seizure. Your doctor may monitor you on video when conducting an EEG while you’re awake or asleep, to record any seizures you experience. Recording the seizures may help the doctor determine what kind of seizures you’re having or rule out other conditions.
The test may be done in a doctor’s office or the hospital. If appropriate, you may also have an ambulatory EEG, which you wear at home while the EEG records seizure activity over the course of a few days.
Your doctor may give you instructions to do something that will cause seizures, such as getting little sleep prior to the test.
High-density EEG. In a variation of an EEG test, your doctor may recommend high-density EEG, which spaces electrodes more closely than conventional EEG — about a half a centimeter apart. High-density EEG may help your doctor more precisely determine which areas of your brain are affected by seizures.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan uses X-rays to obtain cross-sectional images of your brain. CT scans can reveal abnormalities in the structure of your brain that might be causing your seizures, such as tumors, bleeding and cysts.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create a detailed view of your brain. Your doctor may be able to detect lesions or abnormalities in your brain that could be causing your seizures.
Functional MRI (fMRI). A functional MRI measures the changes in blood flow that occur when specific parts of your brain are working. Doctors may use an fMRI before surgery to identify the exact locations of critical functions, such as speech and movement, so that surgeons can avoid injuring those places while operating.
Positron emission tomography (PET). PET scans use a small amount of low-dose radioactive material that’s injected into a vein to help visualize metabolic activity of the brain and detect abnormalities. Areas of the brain with low metabolism may indicate where seizures occur.
Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT). This type of test is used primarily if you’ve had an MRI and EEG that didn’t pinpoint the location in your brain where the seizures are originating.
A SPECT test uses a small amount of low-dose radioactive material that’s injected into a vein to create a detailed, 3D map of the blood flow activity in your brain during seizures. Areas of higher than normal blood flow during a seizure may indicate where seizures occur.
Doctors may also conduct a form of a SPECT test called subtraction ictal SPECT coregistered to MRI (SISCOM), which may provide even more-detailed results by overlapping the SPECT results with a patient’s brain MRI.
Neuropsychological tests. In these tests, doctors assess your thinking, memory and speech skills. The test results help doctors determine which areas of your brain are affected.
Along with your test results, your doctor may use a combination of analysis techniques to help pinpoint where in the brain seizures start:
Statistical parametric mapping (SPM). SPM is a method of comparing areas of the brain that have increased blood flow during seizures to normal brains, which can give doctors an idea of where seizures begin.
Electrical source imaging (ESI). ESI is a technique that takes EEG data and projects it onto an MRI of the brain to show doctors where seizures are occurring.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG). MEG measures the magnetic fields produced by brain activity to identify potential areas of seizure onset.
Accurate diagnosis of your seizure type and where seizures begin gives you the best chance for finding an effective treatment.
Treatment Of Epilepsy
Doctors generally begin by treating epilepsy with medication. If medications don’t treat the condition, doctors may propose surgery or another type of treatment.
Most people with epilepsy can become seizure-free by taking one anti-seizure medication, which is also called anti-epileptic medication. Others may be able to decrease the frequency and intensity of their seizures by taking a combination of medications.
Many children with epilepsy who aren’t experiencing epilepsy symptoms can eventually discontinue medications and live a seizure-free life. Many adults can discontinue medications after two or more years without seizures. Your doctor will advise you about the appropriate time to stop taking medications.
Finding the right medication and dosage can be complex. Your doctor will consider your condition, frequency of seizures, your age and other factors when choosing which medication to prescribe. Your doctor will also review any other medications you may be taking, to ensure the anti-epileptic medications won’t interact with them.
Your doctor likely will first prescribe a single medication at a relatively low dosage and may increase the dosage gradually until your seizures are well controlled.
There are more than 20 different types of anti-seizure medications available. The medication that your doctor chooses to treat your epilepsy depends on the type of seizures you have, as well as other factors such as your age and other health conditions.
These medications may have some side effects. Mild side effects include:
Dizziness and Fatigue
Loss of bone density
Loss of coordination
Memory and thinking problems
More-severe but rare side effects include:
Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Inflammation of certain organs, such as your liver
To achieve the best seizure control possible with medication, follow these steps:
Take medications exactly as prescribed.
Always call your doctor before switching to a generic version of your medication or taking other prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs or herbal remedies.
Never stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor.
Notify your doctor immediately if you notice new or increased feelings of depression, suicidal thoughts, or unusual changes in your mood or behaviors.
Tell your doctor if you have migraines. Doctors may prescribe one of the anti-epileptic medications that can prevent your migraines and treat epilepsy.
At least half the people newly diagnosed with epilepsy will become seizure-free with their first medication. If anti-epileptic medications don’t provide satisfactory results, your doctor may suggest surgery or other therapies.
You’ll have regular follow-up appointments with your doctor to evaluate your condition and medications.
When medications fail to provide adequate control over seizures, surgery may be an option. With epilepsy surgery, a surgeon removes the area of your brain that’s causing seizures.