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Diagnosis - Epilepsy

If you have a seizure, a GP may refer you to a specialist to find out what caused it.

You'll usually see a doctor called a neurologist. This is someone who's an expert in conditions that affect the brain and nerves.

They'll want to find out more about your seizure and may suggest having some tests.

Waiting to see a specialist

You should see a specialist within 2 weeks of being referred.

There's a chance you could have another seizure while waiting for your appointment, so during this time it's best to avoid activities that could put you or others in danger if you were to have a seizure.

For example, you should avoid driving and swimming until you've seen a specialist.

Contact a GP for advice if you have another seizure while waiting for your appointment.

Finding out about your seizures

It can be hard to diagnose epilepsy quickly because other conditions, such as fainting, migraines and panic attacks, can cause similar symptoms. It often cannot be confirmed until you've had more than 1 seizure.

It'll help your specialist if you can describe what you remember about your seizure in as much detail as possible, including things like:

  • when you had the seizure
  • what you were doing when it happened
  • how you felt before, during and afterwards

It may help to write some notes before your appointment and bring them with you.

It can also be very useful to bring along someone who's seen you have a seizure, or to bring a video recording of you having a seizure if possible.

Tests for epilepsy

The specialist may suggest having a test to check your brain activity called an electroencephalogram (EEG), or a brain scan to look for any problem in your brain.

But if these tests do not show anything, it's still possible you have epilepsy, and you may be diagnosed just based on your symptoms.

Checking your brain activity (EEG)

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is used to check for unusual electrical activity in the brain that can happen in people with epilepsy.

During the test, small sensors are attached to your scalp to pick up the electrical signals produced when brain cells send messages to each other.

These signals are recorded by a machine and are looked at to see if they're unusual.

Read more about EEGs

Brain scan

A brain scan can help spot problems in your brain that can sometimes cause epilepsy, such as:

  • an unusual growth (brain tumour)
  • damage to the brain, such as damage caused by a stroke
  • scarring in the brain

The main scan used is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create an image of your brain.

The scanner is a large tube that you lie inside.

Read more about MRI scans

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Page last reviewed: 18 September 2020
Next review due: 18 September 2023