How is Epilepsy Diagnosed?


Diagnosing epilepsy is quite complex and is not always very clear-cut. The steps that go into the diagnosis include a thorough examination, a look at the patient’s medical history, tests, and ruling out other conditions. While having a seizure does not necessarily mean you have epilepsy, if you do have a seizure, it is vital to seek medical attention.

Getting Prepared for Your Doctor’s Visit

It is important to provide your doctor with as much detailed information about your seizure as possible. It is also a sound idea to bring someone who was there during your seizure for more information. Here are some pertinent questions you should be ready to answer during your doctor’s visit:

  • What time did your seizure occur?
  • What position were you in before the seizure?
  • What activity were you taking part in before the seizure?
  • How long did the seizure last?
  • What was your level of consciousness during the seizure?
  • What were the effects of the seizure on the body?
  • What parts of the body were affected by the seizure?

There are some additional questions that your doctor may need to ask you to establish your medical history and get a clearer picture to reach an accurate diagnosis. These questions may pertain to your family history, sleeping patterns, alcohol and/or drug use, and whether you have incurred any recent head injuries or had an infection, both of which could trigger a seizure.

Tests for Epilepsy

There are various tests that can be used to detect brain activity as epilepsy occurs due to irregular electrical impulses in nerve cells in the brain. There are common ways your brain activity and structure may be tested and imaged: an EEG and an MRI. An EEG, which stands for electroencephalography, is used to translate brain activity to waves doctors can make sense of to detect any irregularities.

An MRI, which stands for magnetic resonance imaging, provides your doctor with a full-blown image of your brain which helps them determine whether your seizure is the result of scar tissue, a stroke, or tumor. Following your tests, if you indeed have the condition, you are typically referred to a neurologist–a doctor whose specialty is brain disorders.

Your neurologist becomes your primary epilepsy physician and chooses the appropriate treatment option to control and prevent seizures. In cases where anti-seizure drugs prove to be ineffective, you may also be referred to an epileptologist–a neurologist whose sole focus is epilepsy–for more advanced treatment options.

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Epilepsy Myths Busted

Epilepsy Myths

Many people know very little about epilepsy and have a very distorted idea of what this condition really is. Most people associate epilepsy with an individual having an uncontrollable seizure on the floor, losing control of their body. Some even believe seizures to have a link with a mental health issue. However, these epilepsy myths are not always accurate.

While a seizure can be a disconcerting incident to witness, it is not as scary as it appears once you understand the condition. It is important to separate fact from fiction, so here are 5 common myths about epilepsy that you should disregard.

Myth #1 Epilepsy is not common

Epilepsy is not that rare; in fact, there are over 2 million Americans with epilepsy with over 150,000 people getting diagnosed with the condition annually. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions.

Myth #2 Restraining can help someone having a seizure

Restraining is not helpful in controlling a seizure at all. As a matter of fact, although a seizure may look like you need to intervene by holding down the individual, this hurts more than it helps. The best thing to do when you witness someone who is having a seizure is to allow them enough space and clear their surrounding of objects so they do not injure themselves.

Myth #3 You may swallow your tongue while having a seizure

As your tongue is pretty firmly attached to the floor of your mouth, it is physiologically impossible for someone to swallow their tongue. Those who believe this myth often choose to put an object in the person’s mouth to bite down, which can only result in an injury or teeth getting chipped. The only essential step is to ensure the individual is on their side while seizing.

Myth #4 Epilepsy deteriorate cognitive function

While people with epilepsy do become mentally incapacitated during a seizure, while they are not experiencing a seizure, their condition does not have any impact on their cognitive performance or intelligence. A lot of notably intelligent, renowned people have epilepsy, including world leaders and artists.  

Myth #5 Having a seizure means you have epilepsy

There are many different types of seizures, so not everyone who has a seizure necessarily has epilepsy. For example, an extremely high fever in children can lead to a febrile seizure. Epilepsy, on the other hand, is characterized by repeated seizures without a direct, identified trigger such as an injury or stroke.

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The Epilepsy Terms You Should Know

Epilepsy Terms

Getting diagnosed with a lifelong disease and managing symptoms can be taxing all on its own without having to learn new terminology. Nonetheless, the only way to truly understand a condition is to familiarize yourself with the essential epilepsy terms.

In the case of epilepsy, which is a neurological condition that causes seizures, there are many terms that you should know as well to understand the condition better. With that in mind, here are 9 important epilepsy terms that you must become familiar with if you or someone you know has epilepsy.

A Neurologist — Doctors who specialize in treating epilepsy are called neurologists, which is a term used to refer to a doctor who specializes in brain disorders. In cases where medications prove to be ineffective, people may consult a neurologist whose specialty is epilepsy, who is referred to as an epileptologist.

A Seizure A seizure refers to an abrupt surge of irregular electrical impulses in the brain due to chemical changes. There are a number of different types of seizures all originating in different sites of the brain. Most seizures last seconds to a couple of minutes, and seizures that last longer require medical attention as they can be life-threatening.

EEG — Electroencephalography is a painless, risk-free test that is commonly used to assess electrical activity in the brain. EEGs provide doctors with data for them to detect whether there is any irregular electrical activity in the brain.

Partial Epilepsy Affecting up to 60% of all cases, partial epilepsy is the most common type, typically only impacting the temporal lobe. The seizures that partial epilepsy causes typically do not lead to unconsciousness.

Generalized Epilepsy — It is generalized epilepsy when the entire brain is affected by a seizure, meaning unlike partial epilepsy, generalized epilepsy seizures lead to a loss of consciousness and involuntary body movements.

A Simple Seizure — A simple seizure means that the person experiencing the seizure does not lose their consciousness and often cannot even tell that they are seizing. as they are not overtly detectable.

A Complex Seizure — Unlike a simple seizure, a complex seizure causes a loss of consciousness with the patient often appearing to stare blankly into space.

A Tonic Seizure — A tonic seizure affects the muscles and causes stiffness, typically during sleep.

A Clonic Seizure — A clonic seizure is characterized by the parts of the or entire body rhythmically and repeatedly jerking. Restraining the individual is not an effective way to stop the seizure, and the person should be allowed enough space so as to avoid injuries.

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A Guide to Seizure Safety

Seizure Safety

Epilepsya neurological disorder typified by unpredictable seizuresaffects over 50 million people worldwide. Aside from resection surgery in a small number of cases, there is no cure for epilepsy. Given the overall complexity inherent to all neurological disorders, it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly what triggers the seizures themselves. Because of this, seizure safety is vital for those suffering from the condition.

There are several treatments and safety procedures associated with epileptic seizures. Those with a loved one suffering from epilepsy may benefit from learning what to do in case a seizure occurs.

Seizures stem from abnormal communication patterns between neurons. More severe forms of seizures occur when abnormalities in electrical neural activity occur in both hemispheres of the brain.

Seizures can manifest themselves in dozens of forms, with symptoms ranging from a blank stare and minor tremors to a total loss of consciousness while falling to the ground.

A seizure can be alarming for both the person experiencing it firsthand as well as all those witnessing the occurrence. Once a seizure begins, however, there is very little that can be done to stop it. However, there are several ways to minimize the chance of injury and to ease the epileptic through the process.

First, it is helpful to let them know in a gentle and reassuring tone that they are in a safe place. Remind them to relax and breathe, while letting them know that the episode will soon pass.

Safely guide them to a place and position of safety, away from dangerous objects and crowds. If possible, dim the lights, as these can exacerbate symptoms and trigger further seizures. Use a calm voice as much as possible while avoiding rushed movements.

Once you have taken them to a safer location, try to find a pillowor any substitute for a soft cushion (i.e. a rolled up jacket)—to put under their head, preventing trauma potentially resulting from involuntary jerking or twitching. Ensure that the area is free of all sharp, or otherwise dangerous, materials. Expect a lot of involuntary movement and prepare accordingly as much as possible.

As seizures tend to cause sensory oversensitivity, many do not like to be touched. Try to get them to roll over on their side if you can, as nosebleeds and vomit are less likely to obstruct airways in that position.

Refrain from giving them food and water during the episode as these may cause choking while unconscious. Some epileptics, however, benefit from a small sip of a high-sugar liquid in cases where glucose levels are directly linked to the seizure.

People often mistakenly recommend putting a spoon or stick on the tongue to prevent the person seizuring from biting their tongueshowever, this can cause severe dental damage and is a major choking hazard.

If the seizure persists for longer than ten minutes, it is likely a good idea to dial 9-1-1. Most epileptics, however, are accustomed to the seizure process and will not require medical attentionrather, they will benefit from attentive and caring supervision as the seizure runs its course.

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What is Epilepsy?


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in which abnormal disruptions of neural communication result in unpredictably occurring seizures. Also called a seizure disorder, most cases develop in childhood, in females during puberty, and in the elderly. Roughly 3 million people are diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. alone.

Diagnosis usually follows two or more unprovoked seizures occurring at least 24 hours apart. Unprovoked seizures are defined as those not caused by an underlying illness or situational trigger, such as a stroke, head injury, or withdrawal.


There are several different types of seizures, which range in severity and symptoms. Some seizures only last for a few seconds, while others can last for several minutes. Some may be characterized by a blank stare and slight twitching, while otherssuch as atonic seizurescause sufferers to lose consciousness and suddenly fall to the ground.

Epilepsy generally results in two major types of seizures: partial and generalized.

Partial seizures originate from a specific and contained area of the brain and often cause sudden emotional and sensory changes, such as fear, euphoria, or anger, as well as unusual variations in taste, sound, and smell. Partial seizures are defined as either simple or complex depending on whether or not the victim falls unconscious. Other symptoms include dizziness or seeing flashing lights.

Rather than stemming from a localized area of the brain, generalized seizures involve the entire brain, and generally involve more severe symptoms. Often generalized seizures involve convulsions, jerking, and stiffening of muscles, loss of consciousness, loss of bladder control, biting of the tongue, and usually require those nearby to intervene with simple first aid procedures to help avoid serious injury.   


Poor prenatal care is particularly linked with the development of epileptic brain abnormalities. Other associated risk factors include autism, stroke, infection, Alzheimer’s, and severe head trauma.

Those already diagnosed with the disease often experience a greater frequency of seizures as a result of physical overexertion, sleep deprivation, and menstruation.


Epilepsy is most commonly treated through antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), which work effectively in roughly three-quarters of all cases. In cases where AEDs prove ineffective, alternative options include surgical resections of problem areas in the brain, implants known as vagus nerve stimulators (VNS), and ketogenic diets (high fat, low carbohydrates).


A key preventative in avoiding epilepsy is for mothers to follow all doctor recommended aspects of prenatal care. Another includes wearing protective helmets (especially among children, who are more accident-prone) during all high-risk physical activities (e.g. bicycling).

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Treating Epilepsy

Treating Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that typically entails a lifelong susceptibility to sporadic seizures. With over 3 million people affected by epilepsy in the U.S. alone, there is no cure as of yet. However, many treatment strategies are available to help in treating epilepsy.

Most cases of epilepsy are managed by a neurologist or an epileptologist, who offer several treatment options (described below).


The most common method used to treat epilepsy is prescribing patients antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), which help minimize the occurrence of seizures. According to research at the Cleveland Clinic Epilepsy Center, medications work effectively to control seizures in nearly three-quarters of all patients. After long periods without seizures, patients are sometimes able to slowly decrease their dosage and intake frequency.

Given certain social stigmas and lifestyle limitations associated with epilepsy, some patients are prescribed antidepressants to curb secondary psychological effects, such as depression and anxiety.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Therapy

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy entails implanting a small device under the skin of the left side of the chest, which is programmed by the patient’s neurologist to send impulses to the brain through the vagus nerve. The device itself is about an inch-and-a-half in diameter and lasts up to 10 years, at which point it needs to be replaced.


Given the high-risk nature of surgery, doctors usually only recommend this method for patients with a multiple year history of uncontrolled seizures. Surgery is typically recommended for patients with partial epilepsy as the specific source of the seizures needs to be identifiable. The problem area is then resected and the patient is considered to be surgically cured.

Another procedure, known as disruption surgery, involves the disconnection of certain neural pathways in specific areas of the brain in hopes of inhibiting irregular, seizure-causing impulses. This procedure is usually chosen when the removal of a problem area is not an option, either because it is dangerously close to a vital area or it is a vital area itself. Disruption surgeries are not considered to be surgical cures as they only provide symptom relief, rather than symptom elimination through the removal of an area directly causing seizures.

Ketogenic Diet

Maintaining a diet high in fats and low in carbohydrates, known as a ketogenic diet, has been shown to reduce the frequency of seizure occurrences. However, the diet is not typically recommended for children unless they are experiencing severe and prolonged clusters of uncontrolled seizures.

Alternative Treatments

Other non-medical treatment strategies include acupuncture, nutritional supplements, meditation, chiropractic therapy, and physical exercise routines.

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Symptoms of Epilepsy

Symptoms of Epilepsy

Epilepsy is commonly thought to produce just one kind of seizure; however, there are several different kinds. Initial diagnosis occurs most frequently among children, females during puberty, and the elderly. Epilepsy is characterized by recurrent and outwardly sporadic epileptic seizures. There are also other general symptoms of epilepsy.

There are two major forms of epilepsy: partial and generalized.

Partial epilepsy, which originates in a localized area of the brain (particularly the temporal lobe), is characterized by drastic changes in mood or sensation, also referred to as ‘auras.’ Auras are commonly thought to precede seizures as warning signs, although some specialists argue that they are aspects of the seizures themselves. Patients often have difficulty describing auras in words. Emotional changes include unusual degrees of euphoria, fear, or anger. Patients often report changes in the normal tasting of food and drink, various smells, and intense feelings of familiarity or unfamiliarity. To the outward observer, a patient undergoing a partial epileptic fit may have a blank stare, speak unusually, hallucinate, twitch, gesture repeatedly, or report seeing flashing lights. Partial seizures are defined as simple or complex depending on whether or not the patient loses consciousness.

Generalized seizures tend to originate throughout the brain. Whereas partial seizures might pass with minimal symptoms, generalized epilepsy often entails very noticeable physical symptoms. In the most common form of generalized seizurethe grand mal seizure (or tonic-clonic)consciousness is usually lost, and the patient requires first aid attention to prevent injuries. Symptoms may also include loss of bladder control, muscle spasms and constrictions, irregular movements, shaking or jerking of the head, and the stiffening of several parts of the body.

Anyone feeling that a seizure is imminent should immediately contact a doctor. Although differentiating between epilepsy and other neurological disorders is sometimes difficult, observations reported by witnesses nearby often supplement missing information required for the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.

Patients are encouraged to maintain a seizure diary, recording the time and place at which a seizure occurred, as well as sensations and feelings preceding, during, and following the event. Witness observations are also helpful to include in these entries.

Some medical conditions yield symptoms often confused with epilepsy. Some experts call these episodes ‘imitators.’ Involuntary twisting or twitching, for instance, may be called movement imitators; fainting is referred to as a loss of consciousness imitator; a mini-stroke may be called a confusion imitator; and a panic attack, or an episode of hyperventilation, may be referred to as psychological imitators.

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How to Prevent Seizures

How to Prevent Seizures

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by seizures. While most patients take anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) to inhibit specific brain activities that cause seizures, certain activities and environmental factors can still trigger epileptic seizures. You might wonder how to prevent seizures. It is important to adopt healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices in order to better manage the disorder.

Healthy Sleep Patterns

Being deprived of sleep greatly increases the chances of seizures occurring. Therefore it is crucial to get a good night’s rest at regular intervals. Epileptics are encouraged to avoid erratic work schedulessuch as those that involve infrequent graveyard shifts  and to be mindful when traveling; for instance, avoiding trips that involve red-eyes. A well-rested brain that is accustomed to regular sleep cycles is less susceptible to epileptic attacks.

Adhering to Medication Guidelines

One of the most crucial aspects of managing epileptic symptoms is for patients to take AEDs at their scheduled times, and to be extremely careful about never missing a dose. Diligently refilling prescriptions before they run out is highly recommended. Additionally, if a certain medication proves ineffective, a doctor may prescribe something different as there are many options available. It may take a few attempts at various prescriptions before the most appropriate medication is determined.

Avoid Mind-Altering Substances

Mind-altering substances, especially alcohol, lead to cognitive impairment, which can affect a patient’s healthy sleeping patterns, as well as their ability to remember to take medications properly. Alcohol may also inhibit the effectiveness of AEDs, sometimes even cause dangerous interactions. Non-narcotics, such as prescriptive contraceptives, may also inhibit AEDS. It is therefore important to consult with your doctor about what medications you are currently taking.

Keep a Diary of Seizure Occurrences

Since it is often difficult to remember specific details surrounding an epileptic fit a few days after it had occurred, a diary is a useful tool to better recognize patterns, environmental triggers, and ultimately, places and things to avoid. For instance, some female epileptics tend to experience seizures while menstruating, making it therefore wise to avoid certain activities during this time. The diary may also prove very useful for doctors to better treat the condition.

Avoid Brain Injury

Head trauma can greatly exacerbate both the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures. It is therefore critical to use protective headgear while engaging in potentially dangerous physical activities, such as bicycling.

Elderly patients are encouraged to install railings and other safety systems around the house to decrease the risk of falling.

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