Electroencephalogram (EEG) Testing for Children

What is an EEG?

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that measures the electrical activity in the brain, called brain waves. An EEG measures brain waves through small metal disks called electrodes that are gently pasted to your child's scalp right before the test and then removed once the EEG is complete.

Why would a child need an EEG?

EEG testing is primarily used to diagnose and manage epilepsy, but it may also be used to diagnose other brain disorders or evaluate events.

Our experience

The EEG Lab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) supports neurology patients at CHOP's Philadelphia Campus, numerous satellite locations, and additional regional hospitals. Last year, our team performed approximately 5,000 outpatient EEG studies, 1,000 ambulatory EEG studies, 1,500 days of monitoring in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU), and 2,000 days of monitoring in CHOP’s intensive care units. The EEG Lab also performs evoked potential tests and intracranial corticography.

The EEG Lab, EMU, and our EEG Technologists are accredited by the American Board of Registration of Electroencephalograhic Technologists (ABRET) which ensures we meet exacting technical standards and can demonstrate high-quality recordings.

CHOP has a Level 4 certification from the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC). This is the highest possible certification, indicating we have a comprehensive approach and patient-oriented interdisciplinary team capable of performing the most complex forms of EEG testing.

EEG appointments

To contact the EEG Lab, please call 215-590-2960. The EEG Lab is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EEGs can be scheduled in conjunction with your Neuroscience Center appointment or separately. Routine EEG and ambulatory EEG appointments are offered at our main Philadelphia Campus location (Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care, 10th Floor) and many satellite locations.

Please see special instructions for the following tests:

What to expect at your routine EEG appointment

Please remember to:

  • Bring your insurance card.
  • If your insurance requires, bring your referral and co-pay.
  • Arrive 15 minutes early for your appointment to check-in. If you are more than 15 minutes late for your appointment, then you may be asked to reschedule.

Directions, parking and arrival

Find the most up-to-date information about parking and discounted rates for parents and guardians.

Checking in

When you get to the outpatient reception area, check in with the desk staff for registration. They will direct you to the EEG Lab area.

EEG preparation

Your child’s hair and head must be clean. Please wash your child’s hair the night before the test. Please do not use hair spray, oils, cream rinse or gel.

Routine EEG:

  • It can be helpful if your child falls asleep during the study. If your child still takes naps, then please schedule the EEG appointment during nap time. Please do not let your child take a nap earlier in the day or during the ride to the hospital.
  • If your child no longer takes naps, then it would be helpful if you wake your child up one to two hours earlier than usual in the morning. This makes it more likely that your child will fall asleep during EEG.
  • Please avoid giving your child caffeinated food and beverages, such as chocolate, soda, tea or coffee for 24 hours before the EEG study.

Ambulatory EEG:

  • Your child will go home wearing the EEG and sleep like usual at home. Therefore, you don’t need to do the steps listed above.

Please bring your child’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket, and an extra bottle to help provide comfort during the study.

Upon completion of the study, your child’s hair may be damp (from removing the electrodes) so you may want to bring a hat during cold weather.

During the EEG

The EEG test is not painful, but some children may be anxious while having electrodes applied. Our EEG Technologists have special training in making children feel safe and comfortable during the test.

An outpatient EEG test takes about 45-90 minutes depending upon cooperation of the child and type of study ordered.

The EEG Technologist will make markings with a red (washable) skin crayon on your child’s scalp to ensure the electrodes are applied in very specific locations. Even tiny changes in electrode placement impact the EEG findings, so the EEG Technologist is aiming for perfect placement. Next, the EEG Technologist will clean the red areas and attach small electrodes with thin wires on the marked spots. A special paste is used to affix the electrodes.

During the recording, two special procedures may be performed. These procedures sometimes cause changes to the EEG which can help us classify epilepsy and seizure types.

  • Hyperventilation (Deep Breathing): Older children may be instructed to breathe deeply through their mouths for two to three minutes.
  • Photic Stimulation (Flashing Lights): Your child will have fun looking at a flashing strobe light during the recording.

The EEG Technologist will sometimes ask you to stay with your child during the test and sometimes ask you to wait in the nearby waiting room. If the EEG Technologist asks you to remain in the waiting room while the test is in progress, then it is because many children are inclined to be more cooperative without their parents present which helps us obtain a better recording.

The EEG Technologist has been specially trained to perform this test in children and will be pleased to answer any questions you have. Everyone in the EEG Lab will do everything possible to comfort you and your child during your visit.

Checking out of EEG and next steps

If your child has an appointment with a clinician in the Neuroscience Center after your EEG appointment, then please check in at the front desk. Often you will usually discuss the EEG results at the clinic visit.

If your child is not seeing a neurology clinician, then your child’s EEG results will be sent to the referring physician that you provided at the time you made the appointment. CHOP clinicians can access the EEG result through our electronic medical record system.

If you would like an additional doctor to receive the results, then please stop at the EEG desk or call to provide the contact information.

Most EEG studies will be reported within 24 hours. Ambulatory EEG studies require extensive time to review and reporting may take several days.