Testing Testing Part 1 – EEGs

As I write this first sentence, I’m in the neuro office waiting for my first EEG since changing my meds. For those of you who don’t have experience with an EEG, it’s basically an electronic recording of your brain activity. A technician pastes 16, or 24, or more wires onto your scalp and hooks you up to a machine that listens for electricity coming into them from your brain. It can be as short as 20 minutes, or as long as 3 days or more. Mine is going to be an hour. 

(Note: For staffing reasons beyond my control, the exam was in fact a “routine” 30-minute EEG.)

The machine looks a bit like an octopus, with all those wires. I unfortunately didn’t get a picture of me with the wires on, but I’ve always thought the EEG machine itself looked cool.

The Machine. Probably without Florence.

Most of the time, you’re sitting (in my case, lying) down with your eyes closed. The doctor wants to get a good picture of your resting brain. I always fall asleep. They do need to try a couple of stimulus situations, though. About 1 out of every 30 people with epilepsy (about 3%) are sensitive to bright or flashing lights. So the EEG tech will set up a strobe light right over your face and strobe the light right into your eyes, to see if anything happens. You do get to close your eyes, but the light is only about eight inches from your face so it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Then, they’ll have you hyperventilate for two minutes. This makes me dizzy and dries out my throat, but doesn’t seem to do anything else. Some people have seizures while they’re having an EEG. This is very useful to the doctor, I guess; not so much fun to the patient.

My particular EEGs are pretty boring, mostly. Once a year or so, I go into a room, get my scalp measured and marked off with a pencil (which is painful—your scalp wasn’t really meant as drawing paper), get wires pasted onto my scalp, lie down on a hospital bed, and then mostly close my eyes and lie there listening to the tech click away with keyboard and mouse. It’s a good thing they want you to fall asleep. But they’re the best quick view my neuro has into what’s going on with my brain, so I deal with it.

Besides, who would miss a chance to get off work to take a nap?

The Epilepsy Foundation of America has (as usual) a really good quickie discussion of an EEG with more information available.

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