What it's like to have an EEG

Merely Me Health Guide June 16, 2009
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    It is bad enough to have Multiple Sclerosis but sometimes this disease is associated with having other health disorders.  Some MS patients, for example, will have a seizure disorder in addition to having MS.  The Mayo Clinic reports that:

     

    "Epileptic seizures occur more frequently in people with multiple sclerosis (MS) than in the general population. A 2003 overview of research indicates a seizure prevalence of 2.3 percent in adults with multiple sclerosis. In the general population (those who don't have MS), the seizure prevalence is approximately 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent." 

     

     So while this is not a huge percentage, it is far greater than would be for people who do not have MS.

     

    Last summer I was showing some unusual symptoms which troubled a friend of mine.  My friend happens to have three children who all have epilepsy so when she saw me staring into space and "convulsing" she wondered if I was having a seizure.  I didn't think it could be a seizure as I was coherent and conscious the entire time.  But then she told me that there are many different types of seizures and some where the person does not lose consciousness.

     

    Here is a more exact description of what would happen. I would get a sick feeling in my stomach and/or see a visual aura.  The visual aura looked like zig-zaggy lines resembling shards of a mirror.  They would start from my periphery, usually on my right side, and grow to a huge half a circle around my head.  The lines would appear to be shimmery and this would block my vision on that side.  In researching this aura I found that people with migraines and epilepsy often see this.  I have never had a migraine in my life and I didn't think I had epilepsy yet here I was with this symptom.

     

    I would feel altered and dizzy and I always knew something was coming.  Then my right side would begin to convulse with my muscles of my legs and arms and even my back tighten followed by a shuddering release.  I could feel some sort of energy pulling my limbs to do this. The entire cycle would last between 20-30 minutes.

     

    When I told my doctor about this during a physical, he thought it would be a good idea to have an EEG just to make sure that this was an MS symptom and nothing else.

     

    An EEG is totally non-invasive and it does not hurt in any way.  This test is not to be confused with Electroconvulsive Shock Treatment for example.  You will not feel electrical currents or anything of that nature. An EEG is a simply a test which measures the electrical activity of your brain.  They look at your brain waves as recorded on a computer to see if there are any abnormalities in the patterns they see.

     

    An EEG is primarily used to identify seizure disorders but it is important to know that an EEG in and of itself may not diagnose or rule out seizure disorders or epilepsy.  They always have to take other factors into consideration.

     

     Before the test:

      

    They may ask you to not eat or drink anything with caffeine in it.  You may also be asked to refrain from taking any sedatives or tranquilizers before the test as these can affect the results.  They also ask that your hair be clean and free of oils or conditioner before you come in for the test.  Some EEG tests are conducted to see if you have a sleep disorder so they may ask you to not to sleep the night before the test.  I did not have a sleep deprived EEG so I did not have to do this thankfully.

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    How long does the test take?

      

    It depends upon if you are having the sleep portion of the test or not but mine only lasted about an hour.  Most of the time was spent hooking up the electrodes to my scalp.

     

    What happens during an EEG?

      

    You might feel a bit like Frankenstein when they put all these electrodes all over your scalp.  They have to be pasted on so you will have lots of time to talk to your technician like I did.  What did we talk about?  We talked about hair of all things which made me feel like I was at my hair dresser. After being asked what salon I get my hair done at she pasted the last electrode in place.  Talking about such an inane topic did distract me from the fact that I was there being tested for epilepsy.  It all felt very surreal.

     

    She then turned down the lights and when the room was dark and quiet she told me she was going to have me look at a strobe light.  At first the light pulsated slowly but then picked up speed.  When it reached a certain blinking rhythm I felt very strange and my right side began convulsing.  I was awake and coherent the entire time though.  I had absolutely no idea that my body would react in this way and it frightened me.

     

    The technician would give me sublingual medication to put under my tongue and whatever it was she gave me helped to stop my shaking. 

     

    For the next part of my test, I was told to hyperventilate.  I got that same altered feeling and my right side began to jerk in the same way as for the strobe light. 

     

    It was a somewhat upsetting experience for me as I felt as though I could not control my body. 

     

    The Aftermath

      

    Based upon what happened to me during the test I was surprised to hear that the results showed no abnormal electrical patterns and they concluded that I do not have a seizure disorder.  When asked what caused those symptoms I was told it was my MS. 

     

    And this seems to be validated in the literature that sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a seizure from MS symptoms. 

     

    Julie Stachowiak, in her article, "Seizures as a Symptom of Multiple Sclerosis"

    states that:  "Some paroxysmal symptoms of MS (for example, spasticity, numbness and tingling, dysarthria) can mimic (or be) simple partial seizures. For this reason, it can be difficult to diagnose MS in people experiencing seizures. It can also be difficult to recognize seizures in those already known to have the disease. Your neurologist may have to order an EEG to get a more definitive answer."

     

    In fact my symptoms of convulsing on my right side continued after my EEG test and were becoming so bad that I began to have them in my sleep.  I would wake up with my muscles in spasms on my right side.  This time I went to see a Physician's Assistant at my neurologist's office.  I told her about my recent EEG and the results and she told me a story.  One of the nurses there was showing signs of having seizures so she sent the nurse to get an EEG.  When it was found normal she was then sent to get an MRI where they found lesions and subsequently diagnosed her with MS.  The Physician's Assistant told me, "Yeah she was jerking and flailing about and I thought for sure this was a seizure but I was wrong." 

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    This made me feel better (and my friend too who had originally suggested that I should get an EEG) that these MS symptoms can sometimes mimic other disorders. 

     

    I am glad I got the EEG, just for peace of mind.  And I never thought I would say this but I am grateful it was just my MS.  I still wonder about some of my MS symptoms as they seem so unusual but this seems to be the nature of the disease.  One thing you can say about Multiple Sclerosis is that you never have a dull moment. 

     

    So tell us about your experience.  Have you ever had an EEG?  Does anyone out there have a seizure disorder and MS?  Have your MS symptoms ever mimicked other health problems?  Tell us all about it, we want to know.  You help others when you share your story here.