Headaches and EEG

Headaches are typically diagnosed solely based on your subjective narrative and a physical exam by your dentist. In some cases however, more diagnostic testing is necessary to determine the cause of your migraine headache or to rule out a more serious condition. One test that your dentist may use is the electroencephalogram or EEG.

An EEG may not be ordered immediately, unless corresponding epileptic conditions occur. It may be a few visits before your doctor decides to order an EEG.

How it Works

Several electrodes are placed in various places on your head. These sensors pick up the electrical impulses going on inside your brain, looking for abnormalities. Each electrode passes a signal to a polygraph and provides a graphical representation of brain activity.

The EEG Process

Your doctor will evaluate any medications you are taking that might contra-indicate undergoing an EEG. Other things to keep in mind include:

  • Wash your hair the night before and use no cream rinses, sprays, or oils
  • The electrodes are placed on your scalp
  • Relax with eyes open, then closed
  • You will be instructed to perform various breathing exercises and look at a bright light to stimulate different brain functions
  • The electrodes are removed with acetone and you are sent home

A neurologist will examine the EEG and inform your dentist of the results.

When an EEG is Indicated

In most cases, EEG is used to diagnose seizures, with or without corresponding headaches. It is often used to distinguish between migraine headaches and partial seizures.

Epilepsy and migraine headaches both may have an aura that precedes the actual event. A migraine aura will often show a waxing and waning period with periods of complete inactivity. Epilepsy, usually shows a progressively build up of brain activity in both frequency and amplitude.

The test usually cannot pinpoint the cause of the seizure or headache, but can provide your doctor with positive feedback on when and where a seizure occurs.

EEG and Biofeedback

In some cases, EEG has been used to train the patient in biofeedback processes. During several sessions, you learn to control your body's processes to effect changes in your brain wave activity that your normally cannot control. In about ten training sessions you can learn to reduce the incidence or intensity of tension type headaches. Managing migraine headaches is slightly different and may take a few more sessions to learn.

An EEG is just one tool that your dentist may use to help diagnose and treat your chronic, or serious episodic headaches. In order to rule out a more serious underlying condition, your doctor may call for an EEG. While this test does not pinpoint the exact cause of your headache, it will give the doctor more information on your particular case. For headache / migraine diagnosis information using a EEG, contact our migraine specialist at iHATEheadaches.com for a confidential consultation.

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