What It Is

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test used to find problems related to electrical activity of the brain.

An EEG tracks and records brain wave patterns. Small metal discs with thin wires (electrodes) are placed on the scalp, and then send signals to a computer to record the results. Normal electrical activity in the brain makes a recognizable pattern. Through an EEG, doctors can look for abnormal patterns that indicate seizures and other problems.

Why It's Done

Most EEGs are done to diagnose and monitor seizure disorders. EEGs also can identify causes of other problems, such as sleep disorders and changes in behavior. They're sometimes used to evaluate brain activity after a severe head injury or before a heart transplant or liver transplant.

Preparation

If your child is having an EEG, preparation is minimal. Your child's hair should be clean and free of oils, sprays, and conditioner to help the electrodes stick to the scalp.

Your doctor may recommend that your child stop taking certain medicines before the test. It's often recommended that kids not have caffeine up to 8 hours before the test. If it's necessary for your child to sleep during the EEG, the doctor will suggest ways to help make this easier.

The Procedure

An EEG can be done in the doctor's office, a lab, or a hospital. Your child will be asked to lie on a bed or sit in a chair. The EEG technician will attach electrodes to different locations on the scalp using adhesive paste. Each electrode is connected to an amplifier and EEG recording machine.

The electrical signals from the brain are converted into wavy lines on a computer screen. Your child will be asked to lie still because movement can change the results.

If the goal of the EEG is to mimic or cause the problem your child is having (like seizures), he or she may be asked to look at a bright flickering light or breathe a certain way. The health care provider performing the EEG will know your child's medical history and will be ready for any issues that could come up during the test.

Most EEGs take about an hour. If your child needs to sleep during it, the test will take longer. You might be able to stay in the room with your child, or you can step outside to a waiting area.

What to Expect

An EEG isn't uncomfortable, and patients do not feel any shocks on the scalp or elsewhere. Still, having electrodes pasted to the scalp can be a little stressful for kids, as can lying still during the test.

EEG_illustration

Getting the Results

A neurologist (a doctor trained in nervous system disorders) will read and interpret the results. Though EEGs vary in complexity and duration, results usually are available in a few days.

Risks

EEGs are very safe. If your child has a seizure disorder, your doctor might want to stimulate and record a seizure during the EEG. A seizure can be triggered by flashing lights or a change in breathing pattern.

Helping Your Child

You can help prepare your child for an EEG by explaining that it won't be uncomfortable. You can describe the room and the equipment that will be used, and reassure your child that you'll be right there for support. For older kids, be sure to explain the importance of keeping still while the EEG is done so it won't have to be repeated.

If You Have Questions

If you have questions about the EEG procedure, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the EEG technician before the exam.

Back to Articles


Related Articles

Seizures

Seizures are caused by a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. Find out what you need to know about seizures and what to do if your child has one.

Read More

First Aid: Seizures

Although seizures can be frightening, usually they last only a few minutes, stop on their own, and are almost never life-threatening.

Read More

Epilepsy

Epilepsy causes electrical signals in the brain to misfire, which can lead to multiple seizures. Anyone can get epilepsy at any age, but most new diagnoses are in kids.

Read More

Epilepsy Factsheet (for Schools)

What teachers should know about epilepsy, and what they can do to help students with the condition succeed in school.

Read More

Encephalitis

Encephalitis is a rare brain inflammation caused by a virus. The best way to avoid encephalitis is to prevent the illnesses that may lead to it.

Read More

Epilepsy

Seizures are a common symptom of epilepsy, a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Learn all about epilepsy, including what to do if you see someone having a seizure.

Read More

Epilepsy

It comes from a Greek word meaning "to hold or seize," and seizures are what happen to people with epilepsy. Learn more about epilepsy in this article written just for kids.

Read More

Word! Seizure

You might hear a seizure called a convulsion, fit, or spell.

Read More

Word! EEG (Electroencephalogram)

Doctors use electroencephalograms to figure out what's going on in your brain.

Read More

Encephalitis

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. Although encephalitis sounds scary, understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment can help you feel prepared to deal with it if you ever need to.

Read More

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

Search our entire site.