Problems affecting the brain including tumors, epilepsy, and various sleep disorders can often be diagnosed, measured, and managed through the use of electroencephalogram (EEG) testing. EEG is a medical test that’s frequently used to measure brain wave activity at the brain’s surface levels. The data collected during these procedures make it possible for doctors to accurately identify problems, and to design and implement needs-specific treatment plans. Although these tests certainly aren’t painful, most traditional forms of EEG testing are far from convenient. If patients don’t know what to expect, or if they’re required to undergo EEG testing regularly, some aspects of this process are virtually guaranteed to prove frustrating.

What to Expect Ahead of an EEG

EEG tests are performed on adults, adolescents, and very young children as needed. Given that there’s a significant amount of equipment involved, the process can be intimidating. Fear of the unknown can make this testing more uncomfortable than necessary, especially for children. Knowing what to expect can alleviate any pre-test jitters and help patients properly prepare. For instance, people who routinely consume coffee or other caffeinated beverages are advised to avoid high-caffeine drinks for at least 24 hours before their tests. If patients take any medications that may affect test results, these may need to be paused or discontinued if test recipients are specifically advised to do so by their doctors or EEG technicians.

At the start of this procedure, your head will be carefully measured by the technician. Marks will be made on your scalp during this process with a special, soft-tipped pencil. These marks indicate where the electrodes will be attached. If necessary, a gritty, abrasive cream may be used to clean some or all of your scalp to ensure proper electrode adhesion and optimum recording quality.

How an EEG is Performed

Once the scalp has been measured, cleaned, and marked, disc-shaped electrodes will be affixed to the scalp with a medical-grade adhesive. For patients with long or thick hair, this portion of the experience tends to be the most inconvenient. Although EEG adhesives are safe for use on human skin and hair, they can be incredibly difficult to remove post-procedure. In some instances, your provider may forgo the use of medical glue and affix the electrodes in place with a tight-fitting elastic cap. All wires exiting the electrodes will then be attached to an instrument for recording and amplifying your brain waves for study. After the initial prep, an EEG will usually last for approximately an hour. For people with sleep-related issues, sleeping during the testing process is normally advised.

What to Expect During Your EEG

If sleeping during the performance of your EEG is not necessary for collecting sleep-related data, you may receive periodic instructions from the technician throughout the duration of your test. For instance, your technician may ask you to blink your eyes, read out loud, or solve simple math problems. Given that the EEG measures brain waves at the surface layer to provide a clearer picture of brain functioning, it is often necessary to assess how brain waves change during changes in activity. Even simply looking at a photograph or deep breathing can assist your provider in the collection of important data.

Ambulatory EEG Tests Are Often Much Easier

If you’re fortunate, and if your provider is well-equipped, you may have the option of taking an ambulatory EEG test instead of a more conventional one. Also known as EEGs, ambulatory EEG machines make it possible for providers to perform brain wave monitoring over longer periods. Not only do these tools provide more flexibility in testing when longer tests are needed, but they can also be far more convenient and comfortable for patients. For instance, a well-designed ambulatory EEG headset can be affixed directly to the head without the need for pencil marking, and without the application of tacky, stubborn adhesives. These tests don’t leave glues in the hair and don’t require patients to wear restrictive caps for extended periods of time.

Most people experience very little to no discomfort during EEG testing. However, when these tests must be performed regularly, certain aspects of this process can quickly become pleasant. For longer testing times and people with longer, thicker hair, ambulatory testing equipment can often make EEG testing quite a bit easier.