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Epilepsy Health Center

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Understanding Seizures -- Diagnosis and Treatment

How Do I Know If I Have Epilepsy?

To decide if your "spells" are seizures, your doctor will:

  • Take a detailed medical history (including a family history of seizures).
  • Gather information about your behavior before, during, and after the episode. It is very important to have someone with you who witnessed the episode and can describe it to the doctor.
  • Do a physical exam

These are tests that may be done:

Recommended Related to Epilepsy

Birth Control for Women With Epilepsy

If you are a woman who has epilepsy, there are some important things you should know before using birth control or planning a pregnancy. Any birth control that is safe for women, in general, is safe for women with epilepsy. However, having epilepsy -- and some treatments for the condition -- can make some forms of birth control less effective. Also, because anti-seizuremedications for epilepsy can increase the risk of birth defects, it's important to plan pregnancy carefully.

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  • An electroencephalogram (EEG) to identify any abnormal electrical misfiring in the brain and help predict the risk of future seizures
  • Brain imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan to help narrow down a possible treatable cause
  • A spinal tap if an infectious cause, such as meningitis, is suspected

What Are the Treatments for Seizures?

When a specific cause of the seizure is identified -- such as infection or low blood sugar -- treatment of that underlying condition often prevents seizures from recurring. If the underlying cause is not fully treatable or is unknown, treatment with anti-seizure (anticonvulsant) medications may be recommended.

Medications for Epilepsy

Anticonvulsant drugs can eliminate or reduce recurrent seizures. The choice of medication is based on the specific seizure type and pattern. Often, a single drug is used, but sometimes a combination may be necessary. Anticonvulsant drugs include:

For some drugs, your doctor may test your blood to check that you have the right amount of medication in your blood so that it is reaching your brain. Blood tests can also make sure drugs are not affecting your kidneys or liver. Some people may be able to stop taking medication once their seizures have been under control for at least a year.

Surgery and Other Procedures for Seizures

Doctors may suggest surgery for the few patients whose seizures can't be controlled with medications. In vagus nerve stimulation, a device that electronically stimulates the vagus nerve (which controls activity between the brain and major internal organs) is implanted under the skin in the neck. This reduces seizure activity in some patients with partial seizures.

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