How do you diagnose epilepsy?

By Dr Tommy TranGeneral06 Jun 2016


Seizures are quite common in the Australian population with one in 10 people having a seizure at least once in their lifetime. This however does not mean the person has epilepsy. In many situations, children will have febrile seizures, and in many cases will have multiple febrile seizures in their life.

Epilepsy is a common condition that will affect 3-4% of people in Australia at some time in their life. By definition, to have epilepsy your child needs to have TWO or more unprovoked seizures. This means that seizures associated with fevers, head injuries or a low blood sugar do not automatically indicate epilepsy. The only proviso to this to this is if your child has a known structural abnormality of their brain and then has ONE unprovoked seizure.

The difficulty with diagnosing epilepsy is that there are many epileptic syndromes which can present in many ways. This is why it is important to get an accurate history from bystanders or observers. Fortunately in the current day where many people have mobile phones, videos can be easily taken.

In most cases your doctor or paediatrician will arrange an EEG to help confirm a diagnosis of epilepsy. This test measures the electrical activity on the surface of the brain and may help to localise where the seizure activity is coming from. It is important to know however that an abnormal EEG does not necessarily mean your child has epilepsy. Many children without epilepsy can have abnormal electrical activity on an EEG.

It is only when the EEG correlates with what is actually seen when the child is having a seizure that your doctor would consider making a diagnosis of epilepsy.

Other investigations that can be helpful would include an MRI or blood tests depending on the type of seizure that your child presents with.

For more information about epilepsy you can visit this website.


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