Pediatric epilepsy and seizure disorder testing and diagnosis

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Contact the Epilepsy Center

  • 1-617-355-7970
  • International: +1-617-355-5209
  • Learn more about the Epilepsy Center

If your child is experiencing unexplained seizures, your physician will want to answer these questions:

  • Are these true seizures or some other problem that looks like seizures?
  • Do the seizures represent epilepsy, or are they being caused by some other disorder?
  • What part of the brain is causing the seizures?
  • How can the seizures be managed or minimized?

A neurologist will review your child’s medical and family history and perform a specialized exam. You may be asked:

  • At what time of day do your child’s seizures occur?
  • How long do they last?
  • What parts of your child’s body are affected?
  • What is his mental awareness like immediately before and after a seizure?

What tests are used to diagnose epilepsy?

Many conditions other than epilepsy—such as stroke, fainting, problems with heartbeat or breath-holding spells—can cause symptoms that sometimes look like seizures. To confirm that a child has epilepsy and to better understand it, testing may include:

  • blood tests (such as blood sugar, complete blood count, electrolytes and liver and kidney function tests)
  • an electroencephalogram (EEG), a test that records brain waves using tiny wires attached to the head to show the abnormal electrical activity that’s producing the seizures    
  • brain imaging tests including computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and PET scans to look for any scar tissue, tumors or brain malformations that may be causing your child’s seizures
  • spinal tap and lumbar puncture to rule out the possibility of infection
  • DNA testing to determine whether the epilepsy is caused by a known genetic mutation

Many of these tests are performed on an outpatient basis, meaning that your child doesn’t have to stay overnight. If your child is deemed a candidate for surgery, more extensive testing will be done requiring a hospital stay.

While diagnosing the epilepsy itself, physicians will also watch for related problems, such as learning or behavior difficulties or depression. Neuropsychologists can conduct specialized testing to monitor your child’s cognitive abilities, learning, behavior, emotional well-being and social function. This will help in developing strategies so your child can function at the highest possible level.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944