Doctor talking with patient. There are notes, glasses and a pen on the table.

What Questions Should You Ask Your doctor if you’re having seizures?

Updated 30/11/2021

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.

[PDF] 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 that 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 it 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 it. In the meantime, they will refer to it as an event or an episode. At your appointment, your health care provider will begin by conducting a thorough examination, including asking questions about your medical history.

 Causes of seizures can include:

  • Extremely high fever

  • Medications

  • Low blood sodium

  • Infection involving the brain
  • Brain injury

  • Stroke

  • Brain tumour

  • 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, an MRI may be done. This is a simple scan of the brain to check for structural abnormalities of the brain. It is painless and sometimes 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. This test records the electrical activity of the brain which doctors analyse to find possible causes of the events.

Types of testing include:

  • 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)

Brain scan results shown on screen, with patient undergoing testing in the background.

[Image description: Screen displaying brain scan. In the background, patient has electrodes on their head as they undergo brain testing.]

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 occurring.

[PDF] 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

  • Getting advice from your doctor about safe sports and activities you can participate in

6. When should I see an epilepsy specialist?

If your primary doctor suspects epilepsy or if 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.

[Blog] 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 people, anti-seizure medications are ineffective. Alternative management strategies such as surgery, deep-brain stimulation, dietary therapy, and neurostimulation may then be explored.

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 in order to avoid potential injury.

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

[Image description: A doctor wearing a stethoscope is talking with a patient. On the desk, there are notes, a pen, glasses and a laptop.]

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 they 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 any changes prior to having a seizure?

  • How long did the seizure(s) last?

  • Have you been able to pinpoint any triggers?

  • Are you on any medications? 

Download this questionnaire to help you prepare for your doctor’s appointment by clicking here or by clicking the banner below.

Download printable questionnaire to prepare for your doctor's appointment.