Normal variants and artifacts: Importance in EEG interpretation

Ushtar Amin, Fábio A. Nascimento, Ioannis Karakis, Donald Schomer, Selim R. Benbadis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Overinterpretation of EEG is an important contributor to the misdiagnosis of epilepsy. For the EEG to have a high diagnostic value and high specificity, it is critical to recognize waveforms that can be mistaken for abnormal patterns. This article describes artifacts, normal rhythms, and normal patterns that are prone to being misinterpreted as abnormal. Artifacts are potentials generated outside the brain. They are divided into physiologic and extraphysiologic. Physiologic artifacts arise from the body and include EMG, eyes, various movements, EKG, pulse, and sweat. Some physiologic artifacts can be useful for interpretation such as EMG and eye movements. Extraphysiologic artifacts arise from outside the body, and in turn can be divided into the environments (electrodes, equipment, and cellphones) and devices within the body (pacemakers and neurostimulators). Normal rhythms can be divided into awake patterns (alpha rhythm and its variants, mu rhythm, lambda waves, posterior slow waves of youth, HV-induced slowing, photic driving, and photomyogenic response) and sleep patterns (POSTS, vertex waves, spindles, K complexes, sleep-related hypersynchrony, and frontal arousal rhythm). Breach can affect both awake and sleep rhythms. Normal variants or variants of uncertain clinical significance include variants that may have been considered abnormal in the early days of EEG but are now considered normal. These include wicket spikes and wicket rhythms (the most common normal pattern overread as epileptiform), small sharp spikes (aka benign epileptiform transients of sleep), rhythmic midtemporal theta of drowsiness (aka psychomotor variant), Cigánek rhythm (aka midline theta), 6 Hz phantom spike–wave, 14 and 6 Hz positive spikes, subclinical rhythmic epileptiform discharges of adults (SREDA), slow-fused transients, occipital spikes of blindness, and temporal slowing of the elderly. Correctly identifying artifacts and normal patterns can help avoid overinterpretation and misdiagnosis. This is an educational review paper addressing a learning objective of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) curriculum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-648
Number of pages58
JournalEpileptic Disorders
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • EEG artifacts
  • normal EEG rhythms
  • variants of uncertain clinical significance


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