Who Treats Epilepsy?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2021 | Last updated: April 2022
Epilepsy is a brain (neurological) disease. With epilepsy, nerve cells in the brain, called neurons, do not work properly. This results in abnormal electrical activity in the brain, which causes seizures. Epilepsy can be very different from person to person. Some people are diagnosed and treated easily. Others need care from a whole team of specialists. Here are the types of doctors who treat people with epilepsy and where they work.
Primary care doctor, pediatrician, or internal medicine specialist
Many people go see their primary care doctor or internist if they are having unexplained symptoms. Or, parents will take their child to the pediatrician first. This doctor may run some tests and perform an exam. If this doctor suspects epilepsy or another brain, spinal cord, or nerve problem, they will refer you to a neurologist for more tests.1
A neurologist is a doctor who specializes in treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. Many people are first diagnosed with epilepsy by a neurologist. A general neurologist may be able to treat someone with epilepsy and keep their seizures under control. If not, even more specialized care may be needed.1
An epileptologist (pronounced “eh-pee-lep’-taa-low-gist”) is a neurologist who had extra training in interpreting EEGs (electroencephalograms) and treating people with epilepsy. Someone with hard-to-treat epilepsy may need an epileptologist to find a treatment plan that works.1
Emergency room doctor
If a person has a seizure and goes to an emergency room (ER), a doctor who specializes in emergency medicine will see them. This doctor may bring in other specialists for an exam and tests in the ER. Or, they may refer you to a neurologist for follow-up tests and care.
What is an epilepsy center?
One out of 3 people with epilepsy have uncontrolled or hard-to-diagnose seizures. Seizures are considered hard to control if the seizures continue for 1 year or if 2 medicines have failed. These people may need to find help at an epilepsy center. An epilepsy center builds care around a team of specialists who offer more options for diagnosing and treating epilepsy. A center often has these specialists on staff:3
- Nurse specialist
- EEG technologist
- Social worker
In the United States, epilepsy centers are accredited by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers.
Yourself, family, and friends
The most important members of any epilepsy care team are you and your loved ones. It helps to take an active role in your treatment and talk with your team when something does or does not work. Loved ones can offer much-needed support and understanding.
Where to find help for epilepsy treatment
The Epilepsy Foundation and the American Epilepsy Society created a database of doctors who specialize in treating epilepsy. The database includes doctors who treat adults and children.4
The National Association of Epilepsy Centers offers a database of epilepsy centers in the United States. There are hundreds of epilepsy centers across the country.2
Are there other kinds of doctors involved in your epilepsy care? Share in the comments below.