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Before the EEG begins, a nurse or technician attaches approximately 16-20 electrodes to the patient's scalp with a conductive, washable paste. Depending on the purpose for the EEG, implantable or invasive electrodes are occasionally used. Implantable electrodes include sphenoidal electrodes, which are fine wires inserted under the zygomatic arch, or cheekbone; and depth electrodes, which are surgically-implanted into the brain. The EEG electrodes are painless, and are used to measure the electrical activity in various regions of the brain.

For the test, the patient lies on a bed, padded table, or comfortable chair and is asked to relax and remain still during the EEG testing period. An EEG usually takes no more than one hour. During the test procedure, the patient may be asked to breathe slowly or quickly; visual stimuli such as flashing lights or a patterned board may be used to stimulate certain types of brain activity. Throughout the procedure, the electroencephalograph machine makes a continuous graphic record of the patient's brain activity, or brainwaves, on a long strip of recording paper or on a computer screen. This graphic record is called an electroencephalogram.

The sleep EEG uses the same equipment and procedures as a regular EEG. Patients undergoing a sleep EEG are encouraged to fall asleep completely rather than just relax. They are typically provided a bed and a quiet room conducive to sleep. A sleep EEG lasts up to three hours.

In an ambulatory EEG, patients are hooked up to a portable cassette recorder. They then go about their normal activities, and take their normal rest and sleep for a period of up to 24 hours. During this period, the patient and patient's family record any symptoms or abnormal behaviors, which can later be correlated with the EEG to see if they represent seizures.

Many insurance plans provide reimbursement for EEG testing. Costs for an EEG range from $100 to more than $500, depending on the purpose and type of test (i.e., asleep or awake, and invasive or non-invasive electrodes). Because coverage may be dependent on the disorder or illness the EEG is evaluating, patients should check with their individual insurance plan.

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