9 questions to ask your doctor if you think you’re having seizures

Seizures are more common than you might think. In fact, a person has a 10% chance of having at least one seizure in their lifetime. Anyone who has experienced a seizure or thinks they may have, should make an appointment to see their doctor.

Your doctor will be able to help you determine the cause of your events, suggest a management plan, and rule out any serious underlying health issues that may be at play.

These are 9 important questions that you should ask your doctor about seizures and seizure symptoms, as well as questions your doctor may ask you.

Download our “Preparing for your appointment” worksheet before you see your doctor for the first time after an event. 


1. What are seizures?

We’ve all seen Hollywood interpretations of what seizures look like, but it’s more helpful to understand what they are. Seizures that you see on the big screen are not what most look like in real life. Most people who experience seizures do not have the violent convulsions or foam at the mouth the way movies tend to portray.

Seizures are a temporary state of uncontrolled brain function. This means you may not have any control over your movement, coordination, thoughts, speech, and more. They are caused by an electrical disturbance that can affect any part of the brain, which is why symptoms are so diverse and can vary in severity. Many seizures aren’t even noticeable to the people around them. It is also important to note that having seizures does not necessarily mean you have epilepsy.


2. Am I having seizures?

After you have recognised potential seizure symptoms, chances are, you are interested in understanding what caused them in the first place. However, your doctor won’t always be able to make a diagnosis based on your description of what happened alone. In fact, your doctor may not refer to what you experienced as a seizure until they know more about the event (also referred to as an episode.)

At your appointment, your health care provider will begin by conducting a thorough examination, including asking questions about your medical history.

 Causes can include:

  • Extremely high fever

  • Medications

  • Low blood sodium

  • Brain injury

  • Stroke

  • Brain tumour

  • Epilepsy

  • Drug abuse

Once your doctor has a better understanding of your health and medical history, they will likely order at least one diagnostic test to help them make a diagnosis.


3. What kind of testing is available to determine the cause?

Most likely your doctor will begin by obtaining a recount of how the first seizure occurred. Secondly, a neurological exam may be conducted. This is a simple examination that is used to check your brain’s function. It is painless and can be performed in the office, the same day.

Based on the findings of the neurological exam and the events surrounding your first seizure, one or more tests may be ordered to find out more information on possible causes. One common method is an EEG test or an EEG scan. An EEG test or EEG scan helps detect electrical activity in the brain and analyses it to find possible issues.

Other potential testing includes:

  • A CT

  • An MRI

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG)

  • An electroencephalogram (EEG)

  • An ambulatory EEG (AEEG)

  • A PET scan

  • A panel of blood tests

  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI scan)

  • Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT scan)

EEG scan showing brain data


4. How likely am I to experience more seizures?

Having one seizure or seizure-like event doesn’t mean you will have another one. Your doctor will not be able to say for sure what the likelihood is that you will have another seizure. If they can be identified, your doctor may suggest avoiding the circumstances or activities that may have potentially led to the first one.

Download these questions to identify the circumstances around your events.


5. How can I make sure I don’t hurt myself if I have another one?

Your doctor may recommend several safety tips including:

  • Telling friends, family members, co-workers, and supervisors of your condition

  • Minimising activities that could cause self-harm during a seizure

  • Wearing proper safety gear such a helmet when participating in activities where you could fall and hit your head


6. When should I see an epilepsy specialist?

If your primary doctor suspects epilepsy or you are having trouble managing your seizures, they may suggest that you should schedule an appointment with an epilepsy specialist or a neurologist. Neurologists have special training in brain disorders and can further diagnose and treat your particular condition.

An epileptologist, on the other hand, is a neurologist who specialises in epilepsy. The care of an epileptologist is not necessary for the treatment of all seizure disorders, only when seizures are not able to be managed by the most common medications. An epileptologist, or epilepsy specialist, is trained to dig deeper into the cause and more effective ways to manage recurring seizures.

Learn more about the different types of doctors who can diagnose and treat seizures and epilepsy.


7. What treatments are available to manage seizures?

Anti-seizure medications are typically the first step in attempting to manage seizures. There are several types of medications and your doctor can help you find the one that works best for you.

For some patients, anti-seizure medications are ineffective. Alternatives include surgery, deep-brain stimulation, dietary therapy, and neurostimulation.


8. Do seizures have warning signs?

The warning signs of seizures are different for each person. For some, they do not have any warning signs beforehand. However, in many cases the seizure symptoms for each episode are the same each time a seizure occurs and may include:

  • Memory lapse

  • Confusion

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Anxiety

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Changes in vision

If you are able to identify your seizure symptoms, tell those around you what they are, so they can be aware and stay alert. There are even service dogs that can sense when their owner is about to have a seizure and alert them. Having a warning means you can make sure you’re in a safe space until the seizure is over.


9. Can I still drive?

Your safety and the safety of others on the road is a top priority. Depending on your doctor’s assessment, they may inform you that you legally cannot drive for a certain period of time. The length of time you must avoid driving will depend on several factors including:

  • Cause of the event

  • Type of event

  • Whether it was epilepsy and if so what kind of epilepsy

Once you have met certain health criteria you will be able to drive again. In some cases, depending on the severity, a conditional license may be issued. This differs from state to state so be sure to check with your local authority.

Patient talking to a doctor


Questions the doctor may ask during your appointment

Just as you have questions for your doctor regarding your seizures, your doctor will also have questions for you so that he or she can gain more information to make an appropriate diagnosis and course of action.

Here are a few questions your doctor may ask you so that you can be prepared for your appointment.

  • When did your seizure(s) start?

  • How many seizures have you had?

  • Do you notice if anything changes prior to having a seizure?

  • How long does the seizure(s) last?

  • Have you been able to pinpoint a trigger?

  • Are you on any medications? 

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