Posted September 30, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 3 min read

An EEG (electroencephalogram) measures your brain’s activity. Brain activity can help your healthcare provider diagnose and monitor brain-related conditions like epilepsy.

What is an EEG?

  • An EEG (electroencephalogram) measures and records your brain’s electrical signals.

  • During an EEG, a technician places small metal disks (electrodes) on your scalp.

  • The electrodes attach to a machine that gives your healthcare provider information about your brain’s activity.

  • Brain activity can help your provider diagnose and monitor conditions that affect your brain.

Why is an EEG performed?

Most commonly, healthcare providers use an EEG to check for seizure activity related to epilepsy. EEGs can also help monitor health conditions or find out what’s causing certain symptoms.

Healthcare providers may use an EEG during brain surgery or to test the brain activity of someone in a coma.

EEGs can also check the status of brain-related conditions such as:

  • Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

  • Brain injury.

  • Infections, including encephalitis.

  • Tumors.

EEGs help diagnose the causes of symptoms such as:

  • Confusion.

  • Fainting (syncope).

  • Memory loss.

  • Seizures.

What are the different types of EEG tests?

There are several types of EEG tests:

Routine EEG

Routine EEG scans take 23 minutes. Your EEG technologist may ask you to breathe differently or look at flashing lights during the procedure.

Prolonged EEG

  • A prolonged EEG test usually takes one hour and 15 minutes, but some types can last several days.

  • A prolonged EEG gives your healthcare provider more information than a routine EEG.

  • Your provider may use a prolonged EEG test to diagnose or manage seizures disorders.

  • Prolonged EEGs use video.

Ambulatory EEG

  • Ambulatory EEGs last one to three days.

  • Ambulatory EEGs take place at home or at an EEG monitoring unit.

  • During an ambulatory EEG, electrodes connect to a small EEG recorder.

  • You can do most of your daily activities while the machine tracks your brain activity.

  • You or family member can press a button if you have a seizure or event that your healthcare provider is trying to capture.

Video EEG

  • The technician makes a video recording of you during your EEG.

  • Video recording helps your healthcare provider see and hear what you’re doing when you have a seizure or other brain event.

  • Your provider may also call this test EEG monitoring, EEG telemetry or video EEG monitoring.

Sleep EEG

A technician performs an EEG test while you sleep. Healthcare providers may order sleep EEGs if a routine EEG doesn’t offer enough information. You might have a sleep study to test for sleep disorders with a sleep disorders center.

Process of an EEG

Here’s what happens during an EEG:

  • You lie in a comfortable bed.

  • A technician places about 23 electrodes on your scalp with glue or paste.

  • You relax with your eyes either open or closed.

  • You may look at a bright light or breathe differently to see if your brain has changes during these activation procedures

  • If you have a seizure, the technologist will note the activity in the record.

  • During routine EEGs, the technician will record for 23 minutes, and strive to obtain at least a portion of drowsiness or sleep.

  • During an EEG that spans multiple hours, they strive to obtain a longer sleep recording and record the study for one hour and 15 minutes.

  • During an ambulatory EEG, you usually go home and go about your usual activities.

  • You carry or wear a portable EEG recorder for one to three days.

What do the EEG results mean?

Your healthcare provider will review the brain wave patterns that your EEG identified. The test results describe patterns as normal or abnormal.

Abnormal patterns have different causes, such as:

  • Alcoholism or substance use disorders (drug abuse).

  • Bleeding in the brain.

  • Brain swelling (edema).

  • Brain tumor.

  • Head injury.

  • Migraines.

  • Seizure disorder like epilepsy.

  • Sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.

  • Stroke.

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