Reflex epilepsies are rare. As the name suggests, they are epilepsies where some, or all, epileptic seizures happen as a result of a specific trigger.
Triggers can be thought of as external, for example looking at flashing or flickering lights or hearing specific music. Or they can be internal, for example thinking hard about something in particular.
Different types of reflex epilepsies
Photosensitive epilepsy is one of the most common reflex epilepsies. It affects around three in every 100 people with epilepsy. Photosensitive epilepsy is a type of epilepsy where flickering or flashing lights, and sometimes patterns, trigger seizures.
Reading epilepsy usually starts in the teenage years. In this type of epilepsy, reading triggers brief jerks (usually in the jaw). If you carry on reading when the jerks are happening, you may go on to have a tonic-clonic seizure. Certain types of reading may be more likely to trigger seizures. These include reading aloud, reading complex texts and reading foreign languages.
Hot water epilepsy
Hot water epilepsy is most common in India, where it may be linked to a person’s genes. Less commonly, people outside India may have this type of epilepsy. In hot water epilepsy, seizures are triggered by being in hot water (such as in a bath), or by having hot water quickly thrown over your head or body.
Music induced seizures
Music induced seizures are triggered by hearing a particular musical track or tune. Hearing certain types of music can also trigger seizures.
Other types of reflex epilepsy
There are many other things that can trigger seizures. These include simple things, such as being touched or tapped. They also include more complex things, such as tooth brushing, eating, playing chess, doing mathematical sums, writing, solving puzzles and so on. If you have one of these epilepsies, your seizures are always triggered by the same, specific, thing.
These epilepsies are very rare.
There are many different types of epileptic seizure. Any type of seizure can happen in reflex epilepsy. However, generalised seizures, particularly myoclonic and tonic-clonic seizures, are possibly the most common.
Treatment for reflex epilepsy
Epilepsy medicines are the main way of treating epilepsy. Wherever possible, you should try to avoid the thing that triggers your seizures. But if this is difficult, or you also have seizures that don’t have a trigger, you may want to consider taking epilepsy medicines.
Research into reflex epilepsies
Despite the fact that reflex epilepsies are rare, there is a lot of scientific interest in them. Researchers want to try to find out why a specific activity or stimulus can trigger an epileptic seizure. Research also continues into why certain things can trigger seizures in some people, but not in others.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr K Hamandi, Consultant Neurologist at University Hospital of Wales, for contributing to this information.
Dr K Hamandi has no conflict of interest to declare.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
Updated October 2012To be reviewed October 2014