Information about diagnosing epilepsy

18th June 2018

Diagnosing epilepsy is by no means simple, however, if there is a classic description of seizures this makes the diagnosis more straightforward. There are other medical conditions that present in similar ways to epilepsy that can make it more difficult to diagnose. Of course, this can be a stressful time for a person who isn’t sure what’s causing them to feel the way they do.

If you think you’ve had your first seizure…

If you think you might have had a seizure, it’s of paramount importance to make an appointment with your GP. If your GP thinks you have had a seizure it is likely they will arrange for you to see an epilepsy specialist, ideally, a neurologist, to start the diagnosis process. It’s essential that specialist advice is sought to ensure you get the correct diagnosis and possible treatment.

If there is an epilepsy clinic in your local area your GP will likely refer you there. You may get fast-tracked due to it being your first seizure. If you experience further seizures a diagnosis of epilepsy may be considered.

Information you can provide to help with your diagnosis

There are a few ways you can help a healthcare professional to diagnose epilepsy more accurately.

Keep a detailed diary – This should include the dates, times and length of any seizures you have. Find more details on keeping a diary in our post here

A description of your seizures – Your description and perception of your seizure is important. A witnessed account of what happens when you have a seizure can provide crucial information. If someone has seen you have a seizure ask them to provide a detailed description of what happens.

Video – It’s unlikely you will have video footage of your seizures, but if by chance it has been captured it can be extremely helpful. Whether on CCTV or even through specifically asking a friend or family member to record the event.

Investigations for diagnosing epilepsy

You may be referred for a number of investigations to assist with the diagnosis. It’s worth noting that none of these can indefinitely prove that you have epilepsy, but might provide useful information for your healthcare professional to make an informed diagnosis. Luckily, none of these tests are considered to be invasive or uncomfortable. These could include:

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

An EEG consists of harmless electrodes being placed on your scalp to monitor electrical activity from your brain. The electrodes are connected to a computer to record the brainwaves and provide information on any anomalies that may be occurring.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scans

An MRI scan can be used for a variety of medical purposes, one of which is to help with the diagnosis epilepsy. During an MRI scan, a strong magnetic field and radio waves are used to create detailed pictures of tissue and organs on a computer screen, in this case, the brain.

The scan may involve having a dye injected, ensuring the picture is as clear as possible. It may be uncomfortable as it requires being confined in a noisy scanner for a period of time, during which you must stay as still as possible. You will likely be offered headphones and have the ability to alert the operator if required.

Blood tests

You may be asked to provide a small blood sample, this is mainly to check for any underlying conditions that could be contributing to seizures. There are other conditions that may present with similar symptoms, such as diabetes.  

National Epilepsy Training can help

Get more information from our experts on diagnosing epilepsy. Call us on 01706 373075 or email