Seizures are a symptom of epilepsy. It is important to diagnose which type of epilepsy a person has in order to decide on the optimal treatment approach. Some of the specific objectives of diagnosing epileptic seizures include:
Differentiating between primary epileptic seizures with no identifiable cause and secondary seizures which occur as a result of another disorder or disease, such as a brain tumor, cancer, severely low blood sugar or hypoxia.
Differentiating between true epilepsy and psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, that is seizures that resemble epileptic seizures but are caused by emotional disturbances such as distress and anxiety.
Steps in diagnosing epilepsy
Below is an outline of the overall steps involved in the diagnosis of epilepsy:
The patient is asked to describe what they can remember about the seizure, the events surrounding the seizure as well as any warning signs they think they may have felt before the seizure occurred. Details of the patient's medical history and personal history are also obtained along with information about any drug, medication or alcohol use. These details may be enough for the doctor to diagnose epilepsy at this stage. However, further tests may be carried out.
Blood tests may be performed to rule out hypoglycemia, hypoxia, or withdrawal from addictive substances such as alcohol or sedatives.
The brain may be monitored using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to check for abnormal patterns of electrical activity that may indicate epilepsy.
A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be used to create pictures of the brain to reveal any physical damage that could be causing epilepsy.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc