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Live Well with Epilepsy

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Diagnosis

If you or your loved one has had a seizure, a correct diagnosis is essential to good health. After determining the exact kind of seizure you had and how it relates to any other kind of underlying medical condition, a treatment plan can begin. But remember, the physician is treating the “whole” person, so the seizure could very likely be related to another condition that needs treatment.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

A good neurologist or epileptologist interview is the first step. The neurologist’s first tool in diagnosing epilepsy is a careful medical history, gathering as much detailed information as possible. This will include both a medical history of the patient and that of family members, the medications taken, what the seizures looked like, and what happened just before they began.

You may be given blood tests, an electroencephalogram (EEG), and a computerized axial tomography (CAT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. These tests are often very helpful in epilepsy diagnosis. Other tests may be used when it’s difficult to make a diagnosis.

Once epilepsy is diagnosed, it is important to continue treatment with a neurologist or epileptologist who specializes in your condition.

How can I make the most of my neurologist/epileptologist visit?

Good communication is a key to successful diagnosis and future epilepsy treatment. Being an active participant in your office appointment helps you get the most accurate diagnosis possible.

How can I best communicate with my neurologist/epileptologist?

  • Be thorough when you discuss your condition and epilepsy treatment—your doctor only knows what you tell him/her
  • Let him/her know you want to be a partner in your healthcare
  • Discuss your expectations—don’t be timid
  • Listen carefully to what your neurologist/epileptologist says
  • If you don’t understand a diagnosis or treatment, ask questions
  • Talk about your epilepsy medications and any side effects you may have

What are some questions the neurologist/epileptologist might ask?

Letting your neurologist or epileptologist know about your past episodes can help determine your future. If you don’t remember what happens during a seizure, it’s important to bring a witness (someone present at the time of your seizure) who can describe it to the neurologist.

You should be able to answer the following questions for your neurologist to help diagnose your epilepsy:

  • Did you have any seizure symptoms or warning signs of the seizure?
  • Were you very tired, hungry, thirsty, hot, or emotional before the seizure?
  • Did you feel sick, dizzy, faint, or out of breath before the seizure?
  • What happened before, during, and after the seizure? How long did it last?
  • What is your first memory after the seizure?
  • Were your muscles weak for the first few minutes after the seizure?

Your neurologist will also review your medical history. Questions your neurologist may ask during your first visit are:

  • Did you have any complications at birth?
  • Have you ever had any head injuries?
  • Did you ever have any seizures with a high fever when you were a child?
  • Does anyone else in your family have seizures?

Good communication with your neurologist or epileptologist is important in achieving seizure control. Check out these Questions to Ask Your Neurologist, a handy questionnaire you can fill out and take with you to your next appointment.