In this study, we introduce a two-stage procedure based on support vector machines for the automatic detection of epileptic spikes in a multi-channel electroencephalographic signal. In the first stage, a modified non-linear digital filter is used as a pre-classifier to classify the peaks into two subgroups: (i) spikes and spike like non-spikes (ii) trivial non-spikes. The pre-classification done in the first stage not only reduces the computation time but also increases the overall detection performance of the procedure. In the second stage, the peaks falling into the first group are aimed to be separated from each other by a support vector machine that would function as a post-classifier. Visual evaluation, by two experts, of 19 channel EEG records of 7 epileptic patients showed that the best performance is obtained providing 90.3% sensitivity, 88.1% selectivity and 9.5% false detection rate. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.