Common Scans for Epilepsy
If your doctor suspects you have epilepsy, you are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 3 million people live with epilepsy in the United States. Anyone can have epilepsy, regardless of age or background, and it is one of the most common types of nervous system disorders.
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a general term used to describe a brain condition that causes recurring seizures. There are many different causes of epilepsy and various types of seizures.
What Causes Epilepsy?
A seizure can happen whenever something interrupts the normal signals between nerve cells in the brain. For example, a high fever or withdrawal from alcohol can cause anyone to have a seizure. However, when a person has two or more seizures not caused by a temporary medical condition, they may be diagnosed with epilepsy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, epilepsy has no known cause in about half of the people with the disorder. In others, epilepsy may stem from the following factors:
- Developmental disorders
- Head injury
- Stroke or brain tumor
- Infectious diseases
What Are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?
The symptoms of epilepsy depend on the type of seizure a person experiences. Typically, medical professionals classify seizures as either focal or generalized.
Doctors call a seizure a focal if it appears to occur from activity in one part of your brain. Focal seizures may happen while you’re still aware. Symptoms of a focal seizure without a loss of consciousness include:
- Altered emotions or sensations.
- Involuntary jerking of an arm, leg or another body part.
- A sudden feeling of tingling or dizziness.
- Seeing flashing lights.
A focal seizure can also occur with impaired awareness. During this type of seizure, you might stare off into space and not notice your surroundings normally. You might also engage in a repetitive movement with impaired awareness, such as walking in circles or rubbing your hands.
Generalized seizures seem to affect the whole brain. There are six types of generalized seizures, which are:
- Tonic: Causes your muscles to stiffen, typically in your arms, back or legs.
- Atonic: Causes you to lose control of your muscles.
- Clonic: Causes repeated jerking muscle movements, usually in the face, neck or arms.
- Myoclonic: Causes brief jerks or twitches in the arms and legs.
- Tonic-clonic: May cause loss of consciousness and body shaking and stiffening.
- Absence: May cause impaired awareness, and subtle movements such as lip smacking and eye blinking.
Why Are Tests Used to Diagnose Epilepsy?
Doctors do not have a single test to diagnose epilepsy. Instead, they must combine several tests to evaluate your condition and provide an accurate diagnosis.
Typically, your doctor will first review your medical history and symptoms. Next, they may perform a neurological exam to assess your mental functioning. They might also order blood work to check for infections or another condition that may cause seizures.
After their initial evaluation, your doctor might recommend a specialized test such as an electroencephalogram (EEG) or brain scan to detect unusual activity or characteristics in your brain.
It’s important doctors determine the type of seizures you experience and where in the brain they occur. This allows them to choose an effective treatment for your condition.
What Types of Scans Diagnose Epilepsy?
A brain scan for seizures creates detailed images of your brain. The images help doctors pinpoint the cause of your seizures. There are three main types of brain scans used to diagnose epilepsy. These include:
1. Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
A doctor might order a CT scan for a seizure diagnosis. A CT scan, sometimes called a cat scan, uses x-ray beams to produce cross-sectional images of your brain. Unlike an x-ray machine, a CT scanner creates highly detailed images of soft tissues, such as the brain.
During a CT scan, you’ll lie on an exam table. This table moves into a short tunnel where a scanner will rotate around you and emit x-ray beams. The machine measures the amount of x-rays your body absorbs. This information is then processed by a computer to create images.
Your doctor can view your CT scan results and look for abnormalities in your brain that may be causing seizures, such as tumors or cysts. This will help your doctor take the next step in treating the root problem of the seizures you’re experiencing.
2. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Doctors may prefer an MRI for seizure evaluation in non-emergency situations. An MRI machine has a large, tubular shape. During an MRI, you’ll lie on a table that slides into the opening of the scanner. The MRI machine will use a strong magnet and radio waves to send signals from your body to a computer. The computer will then analyze the signals and produce detailed images of your brain. The doctor views these images on a monitor and looks for lesions or abnormal characteristics in your brain to help them determine the cause of your seizures.
3. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan
A PET scan is a type of nuclear medicine imaging. A PET scan uses a small amount of radioactive material and a special scanner to create images of your brain. During a PET scan, you’ll receive a tiny amount of radioactive material, called a tracer, by injection. After the injection, you’ll lie on an exam table and move into a scanner. The PET scan will detect the radioactive tracer in your body and send the information to a computer. The computer will then turn the data into three-dimensional images for your doctor to view on a monitor.
PET scans are often used to detect and monitor cancer. However, they can also be helpful in evaluating the brain and finding abnormal functioning.
Schedule an Appointment Today
If your doctor suggests an MRI or CT scan for seizures, you may feel a little overwhelmed. Undergoing any medical procedure can seem intimidating, especially if you aren’t feeling well. However, an imaging test will help your doctor determine the proper diagnosis, so they can help you get the treatment you need.
If you live in the Denver area, know that we’re here to help you. At Health Images, you can be assured we’ll prioritize your comfort while producing accurate results. We are a patient-focused imaging facility with the latest technology and technologists who care. If you need a brain scan for epilepsy, such as an MRI or CT scan, we’re here to make your experience positive and tailored to your needs. To learn more or to schedule your appointment, please contact us at one of our locations today.