EEG: How It Works to Help Diagnose and Monitor Seizure Disorders

If your child has sudden uncontrollable leg or arm movements and can’t stop jerking, you can be sure they just had a seizure. But seizures show up in more subtle ways as well, including staring spells, bouts of confusion, and momentary loss of consciousness or awareness. 

At THINK Neurology for Kids, our team of experts specializes in evaluating all your child’s symptoms and assessing their unique set of circumstances to inform our diagnosis. We also use the most advanced technology and equipment to ensure your child gets the very best care possible. When it comes to seizures, we rely on the electroencephalogram (EEG) to help us understand exactly what’s causing your child’s seizure, what type it is, and how best to treat it.

Understanding seizures

Your body relies on your brain to send and receive electrical impulses in order to keep everything functioning properly. If something causes a disturbance in that intricate process, and you experience uncontrolled electrical activity in your brain for a few moments, that’s called a seizure.

A seizure can be a one-time incident triggered by drugs, sleep deprivation, illness, high fever, or injury. But recurring events are considered seizure disorders. 

Epilepsy is one of about 40 known seizure disorders. Each one differs in the symptoms, length, and cause, but they all fall within three categories:

Generalized

These seizure disorders usually involve a brief loss of consciousness, either violent jerking or lax muscles, sometimes repetitive eye blinking, or blank staring into the distance.

Focal or partial

This type of seizure disorder does not result in unconsciousness, but often involves periods of confusion, impaired awareness, possible twitching, and a change in sensory perception.

Unknown onset

This category of seizure disorders involves aspects of both general and focal seizures, including impaired awareness and motor skills.

How an EEG helps diagnose seizure disorders

Your brain constantly sends electrical signals throughout your body every minute of every day. An EEG allows us to see that activity on a monitor that displays a series of wavy lines. If your child has had a seizure, the EEG gives a way to determine if and when there are changes in normal brain activity.

The first thing you should know about an EEG — and the most important thing to communicate to your child — is that it is noninvasive and completely pain-free.

Our team carefully and compassionately guides your child through every step of the non-threatening procedure. We make sure they are completely comfortable before we move on to the next step.

We start by attaching several small, thin metal discs to their scalp with a little dab of gel. This doesn’t hurt; in fact, many kids think it’s kind of cool. The discs have wires that are attached to our monitor so we can see what’s going on. The hardest part is lying still in the reclining chair during the test.

If necessary, we may ask your child to breathe deeply for a few moments or look at a flickering light, as these are common triggers that may alter brain activity and give us more information.

The length of the EEG procedure varies depending on the patient and the quality and type of data collected, but you can generally expect it to last about half an hour. Results are usually available in a few days.

How an EEG helps monitor seizure disorders

If we need to monitor your child during a seizure episode, we may perform a prolonged EEG. This can be done here in our office or at your home, depending on the frequency of your child’s seizures. Video cameras and monitors allow us to observe your child’s seizure in detail so we can make the most accurate diagnosis and begin the most effective treatment.

Just like the routine EEG, this test is completely painless. However, the monitor is plugged into an outlet, which means that mobility is somewhat limited. Your child can still engage in normal activities such as watching TV, reading, sleeping, etc., but won’t be able to leave the room during the test.

Another way to capture a seizure on video is to perform a regular EEG while your child is very tired. This is called a sleep-deprived EEG and may help trigger an attack. The more we can observe about your child’s behavior during an episode, the better we can care for them moving forward.

At THINK Neurology for Kids, our primary goal is to improve the quality of your child’s life by treating the underlying cause of their seizures. Parents throughout Texas trust us to care for their children with compassion and expertise. If your child has had a seizure and you need answers, call one of our offices today or make an appointment online

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