How is epilepsy diagnosed?

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If you suspect you’ve had a seizure, see your doctor as soon as possible. A seizure can be a symptom of a serious medical issue.

Your medical history and symptoms will help your doctor decide which tests will be helpful. You’ll probably have a neurological examination to test your motor abilities and mental functioning.

In order to diagnose epilepsy, other conditions that cause seizures should be ruled out. Your doctor will probably order a complete blood count and chemistry of the blood.

Blood tests may be used to look for:

  • signs of infectious diseases
  • liver and kidney function
  • blood glucose levels

Electroencephalogram (EEG) is the most common test used in diagnosing epilepsy. First, electrodes are attached to your scalp with a paste. It’s a noninvasive, painless test. You may be asked to perform a specific task. In some cases, the test is performed during sleep. The electrodes will record the electrical activity of your brain. Whether you’re having a seizure or not, changes in normal brain wave patterns are common in epilepsy.

Imaging tests can reveal tumors and other abnormalities that can cause seizures. These tests might include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • positron emission tomography (PET)
  • single-photon emission computerized tomography

Epilepsy is usually diagnosed if you have seizures for no apparent or reversible reason.

How is epilepsy treated?

Most people can manage epilepsy. Your treatment plan will be based on severity of symptoms, your health, and how well you respond to therapy.

Some treatment options include:

  • Anti-epileptic (anticonvulsant, antiseizure) drugs: These medications can reduce the number of seizures you have. In some people, they eliminate seizures. To be effective, the medication must be taken exactly as prescribed.
  • Vagus nerve stimulator: This device is surgically placed under the skin on the chest and electrically stimulates the nerve that runs through your neck. This can help prevent seizures.
  • Ketogenic diet: More than half of people who don’t respond to medication benefit from this high fat, low carbohydrate diet.
  • Brain surgery: The area of the brain that causes seizure activity can be removed or altered.

Research into new treatments is ongoing. One treatment that may be available in the future is deep brain stimulation. It’s a procedure in which electrodes are implanted into your brain. Then a generator is implanted in your chest. The generator sends electrical impulses to the brain to help decrease seizures.

Another avenue of research involves a pacemaker-like device. It would check the pattern of brain activity and send an electrical charge or drug to stop a seizure.

Minimally invasive surgeries and radiosurgery are also being investigated.

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