Pearls, perils, and pitfalls in the use of the electroencephalogram

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51 Scopus citations


Despite advances in neuroimaging techniques over the past three decades that have helped in identifying structural lesions of the central nervous system, electroencephalography (EEG) continues to provide valuable insight into brain function by demonstrating focal or diffuse background abnormalities and epileptiform abnormalities. It is an extremely valuable test in patients suspected of epilepsy and in patients with altered mental status and coma. Patterns in the EEG make it possible to clarify the seizure type; it is indispensable for the diagnosis of nonconvulsive status epilepticus and for separating epileptic from other paroxysmal (nonepileptic) episodes. There are EEG patterns predictive of the cause of the encephalopathy (i.e., triphasic waves in metabolic encephalopathy) of the location of the lesion (i.e., focal polymorphic delta activity in lesions of the subcortical white matter). The various EEG characteristics of infantile, childhood, and adult epilepsies are described as well as the EEG patterns that are morphologically similar to interictal/ictal epileptiform discharges but unrelated to epilepsy. An EEG is most helpful in determining the severity and, hence, the prognosis of cerebral dysfunction. Lastly, EEG is extremely helpful in assessing normal or abnormal brain functioning in a newborn because of the serious limitation in performing an adequate neurologic examination on the neonate who is intubated or paralyzed for ventilatory control. Under such circumstances, the EEG may be the only available tool to detect an encephalopathic process or the occurrence of epileptic seizures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-46
Number of pages40
JournalSeminars in Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2003


  • Electroencephalogram
  • Encephalopathies
  • Epilepsy
  • Neonatal EEG
  • Normal and variant EEG findings
  • Status epilepticus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)

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