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If you have signs or symptoms of a neurological condition, your doctor may order diagnostic testing to make a diagnosis. One type of diagnostic testing, an electroencephalogram (EEG), helps your doctor diagnose neurological conditions quickly. The sooner your doctor can make a diagnosis, the sooner your treatment can begin. Understanding the purpose of an EEG test can help you prepare for the procedure.
What Is an EEG Test?
An EEG is a noninvasive, painless neurological diagnostic test that tracks and records brain wave activity to discover problems related to the brain's electrical activity. Brain activity consists of the electrical signals generated by the billions of neurons in our brains. Normal brain activity makes a noticeable pattern that may be disrupted by a neurological disorder.
Why Is an EEG Performed?
Most EEG tests are performed to expose and diagnose conditions and problems in the brain's electrical activity that may be associated with specific brain disorders. Abnormal EEG readings might consist of unusually low or high activity, or unusual patterns that can be used to diagnose neurological conditions. These tests are also often used to assess brain activity after a head injury or before a heart transplant.
Preparing for an EEG Test
Preparation for an EEG is minimal. Because small metal discs, called electrodes, will be attached to your scalp, your hair should be clean without any conditioner, oil, or hairspray in it. Additionally, your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medicines that could interfere with the results.
The EEG Procedure
According to the National Institute of Health, an EEG test can be comfortably and safely performed in a doctor's office, laboratory, or hospital. You may be asked to sit on a chair or lie still on a bed. The EEG technician will attach the electrodes with thin wires to various locations on your scalp. Each electrode is then connected to the EEG machine to record brain wave frequency. Your brain's electrical signals are then displayed as wavy lines on the computer screen.
You won't feel any shocks on your scalp or anywhere else on your body. If the goal of the EEG is to recreate a problem you're having, like seizures, you may be asked to look at a flashing light or take breaths in a particular way. Should any issues arise during the test, the EEG technician will be aware of your medical history and ready to respond.
The EEG test doesn't require recovery time, so you can usually go home shortly after. Once the test is complete, a neurologist will read and interpret the results, which will be sent to your doctor within a few days.
EEGs can help your doctor diagnose your condition so you can get the treatment you need. Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you have about the EEG test.