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Reflex epilepsies

Reflex epilepsies are uncommon. They are epilepsies where all or nearly all 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, like mathematical sums.

Some different types of reflex epilepsies

Photosensitive epilepsy

Photosensitive epilepsy is a type of epilepsy where flickering or flashing lights, and sometimes strong patterns (usually stripes), trigger seizures. It affects around three in every 100 people with epilepsy.

Reading epilepsy

Reading epilepsy usually starts in the teenage years. In this type of epilepsy, reading triggers brief jerks (myoclonic seizures) around the jaw and mouth. If you carry on reading when the jerks are happening, there is a risk you may go on to have a tonic-clonic seizure. Certain types of reading may be more likely to trigger seizures, especially reading aloud.

Hot water 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. It can happen at any time from infancy to adulthood, and is more common in males in Southern India and Turkey. Less commonly, people outside these countries may have this type of epilepsy.

Musicogenic epilepsy

People with musicogenic epilepsy have seizures triggered by hearing certain sounds, usually music. Some people only have a seizure when they listen to a specific musical track or tune. Other people have reported having seizures triggered by a particular type of music, or by music played on a particular instrument. Seizures in this type of reflex epilepsy are usually focal seizures and can sometimes be triggered simply by thinking about a particular sound.

Some other types of reflex epilepsy

Researchers have written about many other things that can trigger seizures in people with reflex epilepsy. These include simple things, such as being touched or tapped, or being startled by a sudden noise. They also include more complex things, playing chess, doing mathematical sums, decision making, writing, and solving puzzles. These types of epilepsy are very rare and are often the subject of clinical and scientific interest. If you have one of these epilepsies, the same, specific, thing always triggers your seizures.

Treatment for reflex 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 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.

 

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action freephone Helpline on 0808 800 5050.

Code: 
F089.04

Our thanks

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr K Hamandi, Consultant Neurologist and Honorary Lecturer at Cardiff University for his contribution to this information.  

Dr Hamandi has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated July 2019
    To be reviewed July 2022

Comments: read the 4 comments or add yours

Comments

Hello,

When one has reflex epilepsy, would they only seizures due to a specific trigger, or can they also have seizures due to several unknown triggers? My 17 year old daughter suffers from myoclonic seizures and tonic clonic seizures (myoclonic every day and tonic clonic averaging at about one a week, has been known to be more or less). We're not sure what causes all of her seizures, we are still in the process of trying to find a pattern by keeping a log of seizures, sleep patterns, eating patterns, moods, menstrual cycles etc. She has not yet identified a warning before her seizures occur. One of her triggers appears to be brushing her teeth. However, other triggers would include low sun flashing through the trees when in the car and less than 8 hrs sleep per night or a restless night. Would this be classed as reflex epilepsy? Thank you

Submitted by Samantha Morgan on

Dear Samantha

Thank you for your question.

Generally people with epilepsy can experience more than one type of seizure. So it may be possible for someone to have reflex and other types of seizures.

Epilepsy is a very individual condition, some people can have obvious triggers or patterns but some people won’t. 

By keeping the log of your daughter’s seizures, if there are triggers or patterns this should help you and her epilepsy doctor to see this.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am until 5.30pm.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

I have heard about hot water bringing on a seizure. Recently, I burned my finger while cooking and while holding it under painfully cold running water for several minutes I had a seizure. Was this just a coincidence or could the cold have triggered it? My condition is very well controlled by medication normally.

Submitted by Alexander Howe on

Hi Alexander

When hot water is a seizure trigger it is usually part of a rare reflex epilepsy.

It may have been the more general stress of the situation that triggered the seizure.

Hope the burn wasn’t too bad.

Regards

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

 

Submitted by Cherry-Epilepsy... on

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