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Epilepsy and Seizures Differential Diagnoses

  • Author: David Y Ko, MD; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
 
Updated: Jul 12, 2016
 
 

Diagnostic Considerations

The diagnosis of seizures is based on the patient’s clinical history. The history as related by a witness is of high importance, because many types of seizures are associated with impairment of consciousness, and patients are unaware of their occurrence.

The clinical diagnosis can be confirmed by abnormalities on the interictal electroencephalogram (EEG). However, these abnormalities can be present in otherwise healthy individuals, and their absence does not exclude the diagnosis of epilepsy.

Not all “spells” are seizures. (See the Differentials section, below.) Other conditions that should be considered include the following:

  • Syncope (eg, cardiac arrhythmia, vasovagal syncope, dysautonomia)
  • Metabolic conditions (eg, hypoglycemia, hyponatremia)
  • Migraine (eg, migrainous aura, migraine equivalent)
  • Vascular conditions (eg, transient ischemic attacks)
  • Sleep disorders (eg, cataplexy, narcolepsy, night terror)
  • Movement disorders (eg, paroxysmal dyskinesia)
  • Gastrointestinal conditions (eg, esophageal reflux in neonates and infants)
  • Psychiatric conditions (eg, conversion, panic attacks, breath-holding spells, malingering, secondary gain)

Differential Diagnoses

 
 
Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

David Y Ko, MD Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology, Associate Director, USC Adult Epilepsy Program, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

David Y Ko, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society, American Headache Society, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society

Disclosure: Received honoraria from UCB for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Lundbeck for consulting; Received consulting fee from Westward for consulting; Received consulting fee from Esai for consulting; Received consulting fee from Supernus for consulting; Received consulting fee from Sunovion for speaking and teaching.

Chief Editor

Selim R Benbadis, MD Professor, Director of Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Tampa General Hospital, University of South Florida College of Medicine

Selim R Benbadis, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Medical Association, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, American Epilepsy Society

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Cyberonics; Eisai; Lundbeck; Sunovion; UCB; Upsher-Smith<br/>Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: Cyberonics; Eisai; Glaxo Smith Kline; Lundbeck; Sunovion; UCB<br/>Received research grant from: Cyberonics; Lundbeck; Sepracor; Sunovion; UCB; Upsher-Smith.

Acknowledgements

Jose E Cavazos, MD, PhD, FAAN, FANA, FACNS Professor with Tenure, Departments of Neurology, Pharmacology, and Physiology, Assistant Dean for the MD/PhD Program, Program Director of the Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship, University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio; Co-Director, South Texas Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, University Hospital System; Director, San Antonio Veterans Affairs Epilepsy Center of Excellence and Neurodiagnostic Centers, Audie L Murphy Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Jose E Cavazos, MD, PhD, FAAN, FANA, FACNS is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, American Epilepsy Society, American Neurological Association, and Society for Neuroscience

Disclosure: LGCH, Inc Ownership interest Consulting

Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, MD, PhD Professor, Department of Neurology, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Southwestern Medical School; Director, North Texas TBI Research Center, Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Parkland Memorial Hospital

Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Neurology, New York Academy of Sciences, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mark Spitz, MD Professor, Department of Neurology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center

Mark Spitz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Clinical Neurophysiology Society, and American Epilepsy Society

Disclosure: pfizer Honoraria Speaking and teaching; ucb Honoraria Speaking and teaching; lumdbeck Honoraria Consulting

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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