Electroencephalogram

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test to detect problems in the electrical activity of the brain

How the test is performed?

Brain cells communicate with each other by producing tiny electrical impulses. In an EEG, this faint electrical activity is measured by putting electrodes on the scalp.

The test is performed by an EEG technician. You will be asked to lie on your back on a bed.

The technician will apply between 16 and 25 flat metal disks (electrodes) in different positions on your scalp. The disks are held in place with a sticky paste. The electrodes are connected by wires to an amplifier and a recording machine.

The recording machine converts the electrical impulses into patterns that can be seen on a computer screen, as well as stored on a computer disk. Before computers, the activity was printed on paper. In either case, the electrical activity looks like a series of wavy lines. You will need to lie still with your eyes closed because any movement can alter the results.

You may be asked to do certain things during the recording, such as breathe deeply and rapidly for several minutes or look at a bright flashing light.

Will the test cause any discomfort?

This test causes no discomfort. Although having electrodes pasted onto your skin may feel strange, they only record activity and do not produce any sensation. No significant electricity passes from the electrode into your skin.

What abnormal results mean?

Abnormal results on an EEG test may be due to:
  • An abnormal structure in the brain (such as a brain tumor)
  • Attention problems
  • Tissue death due to a blockage in blood flow
    (cerebral infarction)
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Head injury
  • Hemorrhage (abnormal bleeding caused by a ruptured
    blood vessel)
  • Migraines (in some cases)
  • Seizure disorder (such as epilepsy or convulsions)
  • Sleep disorder (such as narcolepsy)
Note : A normal EEG does not mean that a seizure did not occur.

Normal results

Brain electrical activity has certain frequencies (the number of waves per second) that are normal for different levels of consciousness. For example, brain waves are faster when you are awake and slower when you’re sleeping. There are also normal patterns to these waves. These frequencies and patterns are what the EEG reader looks for.

Is there any risk involved?

The procedure is very safe. However, the flashing lights or fast breathing (hyperventilation) required during the test may trigger seizures in those with seizure disorders. The health care provider performing the EEG is trained to take care of you if this happens.

Alternative names

Electroencephalogram, Brain wave test

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