One of the most common neurological disorders worldwide, epilepsy is a medical condition that can have you feeling scared and frustrated due to its unpredictable nature. A condition that can result in you experiencing seizures when you least expect them, it is caused by surges of electrical activity in your brain that are abnormal and excessive. If you suspect you may have epilepsy, here are some ways doctors detect it in patients.
Prior Medical History
If you suspect you may have epilepsy, your doctor will begin by evaluating your prior medical history. In essence, your doctor is trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle of various pieces of information to arrive at a proper diagnosis. This step will include finding out if you have a family history of epilepsy among any close relatives. If you experienced a seizure while around others, it is a good idea to bring them with you to your appointment, since they can then tell the doctor what they observed. This can be crucial, since you may have lost consciousness during your seizure.
After assessing your medical history, your doctor may want to send you to a neurologist for an in-depth examination. This will consist of doing tests to evaluate your reflexes, motor coordination, and mental function. Examples of tests will include hitting your knee with a hammer to determine if your foot moves, asking you to remember certain words or name various objects, and perhaps doing simple arithmetic. In doing so, your neurologist will look for signs that may point to epilepsy, such as jerking eye movements, problems with concentration, slurred speech, or seeing your arms tremble when they are stretched out in front of you.
Undergo an EEG
If your primary doctor and neurologist believe there is a reasonable chance you may be suffering from epilepsy, the next step in the diagnostic process will be for you to undergo an electroencephalogram, commonly known as an EEG. The purpose of an EEG is to find changes to the electrical patterns within your brain, some of which may indicate the presence of epilepsy. But before you begin to worry, keep in mind that an EEG is pain-free and very safe. In fact, new technology has now made it possible for doctors to use a wireless EEG headset when performing this test. As the test is being conducted and once it is completed, doctors will look for abnormal patterns in your brain activity that may indicate the presence of epilepsy or perhaps another condition.
Brain Imaging Scans
The final step in the epilepsy diagnostic process is for doctors to have you undergo a series of brain imaging scans. This will usually include a CT scan, CAT scan, or MRI scan. Depending on what doctors have concluded from your neurological exam and the EEG, you may be asked to have one of or a combination of these imaging scans. Unlike the EEG that detected abnormal electrical activity in your brain, imaging scans such as these will let doctors examine the structure of your brain. In doing so, they can look for any abnormalities that may indicate such things as the presence of a tumor or bleeding inside your brain. Doctors will also be able to examine your brain’s structure to determine if your brain has had hidden abnormalities for a long period of time, which could help you find out why you have had seizures or other related problems over the years.
Your Healthcare Team
If you are diagnosed with epilepsy, you will then begin working with a healthcare team that is composed of not only your primary care physician and neurologist but also physicians who specialize in treating epilepsy, who are known as epileptologists. You may also work with neuropsychologists, dieticians, pharmacists, and perhaps even neurosurgeons should brain surgery be looked at as a viable treatment option.
Unlike in years past, there are many treatment options available to help deal with your epilepsy diagnosis. As you work closely with your treatment team and learn as much as possible about your condition, you can learn about what may trigger seizures, what to do when one occurs, and what treatments may be best for your situation. In doing so, you can also gain peace of mind.