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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.

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.

Epilepsy Action has more information about photosensitive 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. These include reading aloud, reading complex texts and reading foreign languages.

Epilepsy Action has more information about seizure types.

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 is most common in older children and teenagers in Southern India. Less commonly, people outside India 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.

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, such as tooth brushing, eating, playing chess, doing mathematical sums, writing, solving puzzles and so on. 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.

Seizure types

There are many different types of epileptic seizure. Any type of seizure can happen in reflex epilepsy, but generalised seizures, particularly myoclonic seizures, appear to be most common.

Epilepsy Action has more information about seizure types.

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.

Epilepsy Action has more information about 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: 
F089.03

Our thanks

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 2015
    To be reviewed October 2018

Comments: read the 2 comments or add yours

Comments

hi there my son can not go into bath water or have water touch his feet without deverstating seizures please can u help he is 16 months old. And called noah

Submitted by elisabeth on

Hi Elisabeth
Thanks for your message. It must be very upsetting to see your son having seizures. Although it’s rare, as you can see on this page there is a type of epilepsy where seizures can be triggered by hot water. Have you taken Noah to the doctor about his seizures? They will be able to look into why the seizures are happening and let you know if they think he needs treatment.

If you have any further questions please feel free to contact the Epilepsy Action Helpline.

Grace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Grace, Epilepsy... on