Seizure triggers

Some things make seizures more likely for some people with epilepsy. These are often called ‘triggers’.

Triggers don’t cause epilepsy. But if you already have epilepsy, they make seizures more likely. Identifying and avoiding your triggers, where you can, could help you to have fewer seizures.

A man holding his head looking tired suggesting the effects of seizure triggers

What are seizure triggers?

Seizure triggers are things that make seizures more likely in people with epilepsy. They’re not usually the same as things that cause, or increase your risk of developing epilepsy.

Most people with epilepsy can identify at least one or two things that trigger their seizures. But not everyone can. And the things that trigger one person’s seizures might not affect someone else in the same way.

The type of epilepsy you have might make a difference to what triggers you have. Some triggers seem to be more common in people who have generalised seizures, and others in people who have focal seizures. Different epilepsy syndromes may also have links with certain triggers. But most of the time, seizure triggers will be very individual to you.

Some people with epilepsy have reflex seizures. These are when you have a seizure every time, or almost every time, you come across a certain trigger. These are a lot less common than other types of triggers.

Here are some of the seizure triggers that have been reported by people with epilepsy:

  • Not taking epilepsy medicine as prescribed

    Taking epilepsy medicines regularly, as prescribed by your doctor, will help to keep a steady level of the medicine in your body.

    Missing one or more doses of your epilepsy medicine is one of the most common seizure triggers. There can be many reasons for missing medicines. These include forgetting to take it, or not taking it due to the worry of possible side effects. You may be more likely to miss a dose if you’re tired or stressed.

    It is important to follow advice from your doctor about how to take your medicine. Sometimes they can interact with other medicines. If you change medicines, there might be different instructions about how to take them.

  • Feeling tired and not sleeping well

    Many people with epilepsy say that feeling tired or not sleeping well can trigger seizures. This can end up causing a cycle, as having seizures can affect your sleep and make you even more tired.

    Lack of sleep and tiredness seem to be triggers for both generalised and focal seizures.


  • Stress

    It’s not known exactly why stress might trigger seizures. But many people with epilepsy say that if they’re feeling stressed, they are more likely to have a seizure.

    For some people, feeling stressed can lead to other changes. This might include feeling anxious or depressed, or changes to your sleeping patterns or eating habits. All of these can also increase your risk of having a seizure.

  • Having an illness which causes a high temperature

    Some people report they’re more likely to have seizures when they have a high temperature due to an infection. This can be a particularly common seizure trigger in children. It might be a more common trigger in people who have focal seizures.

    We have more information about febrile seizures which are linked with high temperatures, but are not epilepsy.

  • Periods

    Some people with epilepsy find that they are more likely to have seizures at certain times of their period (menstrual cycle). There’s some evidence this might be more likely to affect you if you have focal seizures.

    Find out more about catamenial epilepsy here.

  • Alcohol

    Having one or two drinks from time to time is usually fine for most adults with epilepsy. But drinking larger amounts can increase your risk of having seizures, especially after you stop drinking.

    Drinking alcohol can also affect your sleep, and may make you more likely to forget to take your epilepsy medicines. This can also increase your seizure risk.

    Find out more about alcohol and epilepsy here.

  • Recreational drugs

    Recreational drugs include illegal drugs and ‘legal highs’. There is no control over what goes into these drugs. They can be dangerous and they can trigger seizures. This includes recreational cannabis (marijuana or weed).

    Like alcohol, taking cannabis can also make you more likely to have disturbed sleep or miss doses of epilepsy medicine.

    This does not include medical cannabis that’s been prescribed by a doctor. Medical cannabis contains pure cannabidiol and can help in some types of epilepsy.

  • Flashing and flickering lights

    About 3 to 5 in every 100 people with epilepsy (3-5%) have seizures that are triggered by flashing or flickering lights. This is called photosensitive epilepsy.

    If you have photosensitive epilepsy, both natural and artificial light may trigger seizures. This includes light from devices and screens, like TVs, tablets, smartphones and games consoles. You might even find that some patterns, like stripes or checks, trigger seizures.

    You would usually have a seizure when you are looking at the trigger, or shortly after.

  • Other possible triggers

    There are lots of other factors that people report as possible triggers. A lot of the time, there is little evidence to say for certain whether these things do definitely trigger seizures.

    Examples include:

    • Exercise – Research suggests that regular exercise can help to reduce your chance of having seizures. Exercise is thought to have benefits for both your body and mind. But there have been some reports of extreme or strenuous exercise causing seizures. It is not clear from the studies whether the exercise caused the seizures
    • Missing meals – some people with epilepsy report this as a trigger, but there’s not much evidence to prove a link
    • Caffeine in food and drinks – it’s unclear whether caffeine may protect against seizures or make them more likely, due to limited evidence
    • Essential oils – these are a form of complementary therapy that some people report as being a trigger
    • Smoking and vaping – it’s been suggested that nicotine, or other compounds in cigarette smoke or vape fluids could trigger seizures
    • Weather – changes in the weather and extreme temperatures have been reported as seizure triggers, but evidence is mixed

    Remember that triggers are different for everyone. Not all of the factors listed above will affect you. What might be a trigger factor for one person may not have any effect on you.

This diagram shows the cycle of having a seizure and being stressed or tired.

A diagram explaining the cyclical impact of seizures and tiredness/stress.

How can I recognise my triggers?

Keeping a seizure diary is a good way to try and find out what might trigger your seizures.

Every time you have a seizure, record it and make a note of what you were doing and how you were feeling. If you do this over time, you might see a pattern emerging.

Epilepsy Action has more information about keeping a seizure diary.

Epilepsy and your wellbeing

Want to improve your wellbeing?

Take a look at our free online course.

This course includes information about triggers and much more.

Start the course

How can I avoid seizure triggers?

It’s not always possible to avoid seizure triggers. Some things may be out of your control, like getting ill with an infection, or your monthly hormone cycle. It’s not always easy to avoid stress or to get enough sleep. But if you know what your triggers are, there may be some things you can do to try and avoid or reduce them. Here are some suggestions:

  • Try to get into a routine with taking your epilepsy medicine
  • Have a good sleep routine
  • Try to reduce any stress
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink, and avoid recreational drugs
  • Avoid flashing or flickering lights if you have photosensitive epilepsy
  • Talk to your doctor if your seizures follow a pattern connected to your periods

Useful downloads

Download a seizure diary

A seizure diary is a good way of recording information about your epilepsy.

Your epilepsy

This booklet gives an overview of epilepsy, living with epilepsy and the support you can get from Epilepsy Action.

This information has been produced under the terms of the PIF TICK. The PIF TICK is the UK-wide Quality Mark for Health Information. Please contact if you would like a reference list for this information.
Published: April 2024
Last modified: May 2024
To be reviewed: April 2027
Tracking: AP06.06 (previously F095)
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