Epilepsy Triggers Causes Tests

There are a number of disorders that present with symptoms similar to those of epilepsy. Rigorous testing is often necessary to determine whether a patient has epilepsy, or if their symptoms are indicative of another disorder. There are a number of different tests to determine whether a person has epilepsy, from discussing medical history to performing brain scans.

Medical History: The First Test for Epilepsy

Talking to your doctor about your personal symptoms and medical history is the first thing you’ll do to work towards a diagnosis. This interview is your doctor’s first and best test for epilepsy. He will ask you a series of questions to determine:

  • Age of symptom onset
  • Family medical history
  • Past illnesses or injuries
  • Seizure symptoms
  • Trigger factors.

Physical and Neurological Examination Tests for Epilepsy

A thorough medical examination will help your doctor determine whether you have any physical or neurological abnormalities. A blood test will reveal any underlying disorders or infections that might be causing seizures.

A neurological test for epilepsy examines the functioning of the brain and nervous system for signs of abnormalities. The neurologist may test your:

  • Balance and coordination
  • Behavior
  • Mental functions (such as memory)
  • Reflexes
  • Speech.

All of these tests help to reveal what type of epilepsy you may have.

EEG Test for Epilepsy

An electroencephalograph (EEG) is the most common test for epilepsy. An EEG records the brain’s electrical activity via small electrodes (sensors) attached to the head. People with epilepsy often exhibit abnormal brain wave patterns even when they’re not having a seizure. Performing the epilepsy test while the patient is awake, asleep, and sleep-deprived can help give a more accurate diagnosis. Overnight stays in an EEG lab may be necessary to monitor seizure activity.

Imaging Tests for Epilepsy

Although an EEG is a very effective test for epilepsy, some people who don’t have epilepsy will exhibit unusual brain wave patterns, while many people who do have the disorder will display normal brain activity. Additional imaging tests may be required to give a better picture of what’s causing someone’s epilepsy symptoms, such as:

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans, which can be used to reveal any growths, scars or tumors that might be causing seizures.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which offer images similar to CT scans, but with greater detail.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) and functional MRIs (fMRI) can identify active regions of the brain and detect any abnormalities in those areas.
  • Single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) can provide a 3D picture of blood flow in your brain during seizures. This helps to determine the source of the seizures.

Meeting with Your Doctor

When you visit your doctor or neurologist, it’s important to provide as much information as possible about your condition so she can properly diagnose you. You may also want to bring along a friend or family member who has witnessed you during a seizure. He or she will be able to offer important observations about your seizures that you may not even be aware of yourself.


Dekker, P.A. (2002). Epilepsy: A manual for medical and clinical officers in Africa. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/639.pdf

Epilepsy Action Staff. (n.d.) Diagnosis. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.epilepsy.org.au/diagnosis_eeg.asp