Diagnostic Testing

Physician and patient in Epilepsy Monitoring Unit

Most epilepsy patients undergo testing to help diagnose and treat their condition. Our epilepsy monitoring unit, or EMU, also allows us to perform advanced tests and monitoring that can be invaluable for epilepsy treatment. Read more below about types of diagnostic tests, procedures, and the EMU.

Tests to diagnose seizures may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Electroencephalogram, or EEG, which records the brain's electrical activity through electrodes attached to the scalp.
  • Ambulatory EEG monitoring, which is a backpack-sized unit that allows for EEG monitoring of patients in their normal home environment for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of the body’s organs and structures.
  • Positron emission tomography, or PET scan, which uses a special dye to help produce images that show how your brain is metabolizing glucose. That information can provide insight into where your seizures may be starting in your brain.
  • Lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, which is a safe way to examine the fluid that circulates around the spinal cord and brain. A special needle is placed into the spinal canal in the lower back and a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid is removed and tested for infection or other problems.

Tests to monitor how your medication is working:

  • Blood tests, which show the level of medication in your body. Your physician may increase or decrease the dose of the medication to reach the desired level. The blood tests also help to monitor the effects of medications on your body’s organs.
  • Urine tests, which also show how your body is responding to your medication.
  • EEG monitoring, which shows whether the medication is controlling the electrical disturbances in your brain.

Procedures to better diagnose your epilepsy:

  • Subdural electrodes, which surgeons use to more precisely determine the area of the brain where seizures originate. The electrodes consist of a series of disks that are mounted in thin plastic. Surgeons make a small opening in the skull near the area in the brain where they believe the seizures originate and then place thin plastic strips, or sometimes rectangular or square grids, directly on the brain. After they are placed, the patient is then observed for seizure activity in our epilepsy monitoring unit.
  • Stereo-electroencephalography, or SEEG. With this minimally invasive procedure, surgeons implant long, thin electrodes through tiny holes in the skull. The electrodes, about the size of a pencil lead, help more precisely locate where seizures originate, and can reach areas of the brain impossible to reach with subdural electrodes. The less invasive procedure also comes with less risk and quicker recovery.

Our epilepsy monitoring unit, or EMU, features:

Our epilepsy monitoring unit, or EMU, also allows us to perform advanced tests and monitoring that can be invaluable for epilepsy treatment. The EMU features:

  • Eight private inpatient beds available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
  • A dedicated nurse navigator to coordinate care and help patients and families understand resources and choices.
  • Video-EEG, or electroencephalogram, monitoring in all beds. The EEG records a patient’s brain waves, and if a seizure occurs, the recorded video can help the epilepsy team see the features of the seizure along with the simultaneous brain wave recordings. The combination of video and EEG helps to more precisely localize the area of seizure onset in the brain.
  • SPECT, or single-photon emission computed tomography, which shows blood flow in your brain. Detecting increased blood flow in a part of your brain can help experts pinpoint where your seizures begin.
  • Private outpatient examination and procedure rooms.

Our center coordinates neuropsychological testing of many epilepsy patients. This testing helps us better understand a person’s cognitive abilities and other aspects of their personality. The testing can help detect which parts of the brain might not be functioning properly, which can aid us in locating the origin of the seizures within the brain. This information can then be used – along with other tests – to help treat the patient, through medication or through surgery. The testing also provides a baseline so changes in cognitive ability can be monitored over time to provide the best treatment.

Learn how to prepare for your stay in the EMU