Health A-Z

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The doctor will ask you to describe your child's symptoms. He or she will ask how often the symptoms occur and how long they last. The doctor also will ask whether any other members of your family have had similar symptoms or have received treatment for any type of epilepsy.

The doctor will review your child's medical history, including:

  • Any history of birth trauma

  • Serious head injury

  • Infections involving the brain, such as encephalitis or meningitis

The doctor will do a thorough physical exam. This will include a complete neurologic examination of your child.

Routine blood tests may follow. These will check for common medical illnesses that either can mimic epilepsy or trigger seizures. In most cases, the results of your child's physical exam and blood tests will be normal.

As a final step in the diagnostic process, your doctor may order an electroencephalogram (EEG). An EEG is a painless test. It detects the electrical activity in your child's brain and translates it into a series of printed patterns. In many children with absence epilepsy, the EEG shows a specific pattern that confirms the diagnosis.

In some cases, your child's doctor may be concerned that the absence seizures are related to a structural abnormality as well as electrical abnormality of the brain. The doctor may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test or a computed tomography (CT) scan of your child's brain. Reasons for doing an imaging test include:

  • Prolonged seizures

  • An unusual pattern of symptoms

  • Abnormal findings on the physical or neurological examination

  • A condition that would put the child at higher risk of seizures, such as:

    • Birth trauma

    • Head injury

    • Encephalitis

    • Meningitis

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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