Some things make seizures more likely for some people with epilepsy. These are often called ‘triggers’. Triggers do not cause epilepsy itself, but they are things that make it more likely that you will have a seizure.
Not all people with epilepsy have seizure triggers. And the things that trigger one person’s seizures might not affect other people with epilepsy in the same way.
Here are some of the seizure triggers that are commonly reported by people with epilepsy:
- Not taking epilepsy medicine as prescribed
- Feeling tired
- Not sleeping well
- Alcohol and recreational drugs
- Flashing or flickering lights
- Monthly periods
- Missing meals
- Having an illness which causes a high temperature
Not taking epilepsy medicine as prescribed
Taking epilepsy medicines regularly, as prescribed by the doctor, will help to keep a steady level of the medicine in your blood. Several studies have shown that missing a dose of your epilepsy medicine increases the risk of you having a seizure.
Feeling tired and not sleeping well
Many people with epilepsy say that feeling tired or not sleeping well can trigger seizures.
Epilepsy Action has more information about sleep.
It’s not known exactly why stress might trigger seizures. But many people with epilepsy say that if they are feeling stressed, they are more likely to have a seizure. For some people, feeling stressed can lead to other things, such as changing sleeping or eating habits, drinking more alcohol, and feeling anxious or depressed. All of these can also increase your risk of having a seizure.
Epilepsy Action has more information about stress.
Alcohol and recreational drugs
Some people with epilepsy drink alcohol and some people don’t. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to drink alcohol. But bear in mind that for some people, alcohol can make seizures more likely.
Drinking more than modest amounts of alcohol in 24 hours can increase the risk of having seizures. After heavy drinking, the risk is highest when the alcohol is leaving your body. This risk is highest between 6 and 48 hours after you’ve stopped drinking.
Epilepsy Action has more information about alcohol.
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.
Flashing or flickering lights
Around 3 in 100 people with epilepsy have seizures that are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or some patterns. This is called photosensitive epilepsy. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, both natural and artificial light may trigger seizures. Some patterns, like stripes or checks, can also trigger seizures for some people with photosensitive epilepsy. The seizure(s) will usually happen at the time of, or shortly after, looking at the trigger.
Epilepsy Action has more information about photosensitive epilepsy.
Some women with epilepsy find that they are more likely to have seizures at certain times of their menstrual cycle (periods).
Epilepsy Action has more information about seizures and the menstrual cycle.
Some people with epilepsy say that if they skip meals, they are more likely to have a seizure.
Having an illness which causes a high temperature
Some people say that they are more likely to have seizures when they have an illness, such as an infection that causes a high temperature.
What can I do to avoid my seizure triggers?
There are some things you can do to avoid your seizure triggers. These include:
- Remembering to always take your epilepsy medicine
- Having a good sleep routine
- Trying to reduce your stress
- Limiting how much alcohol you drink
- Avoiding flashing or flickering lights (if you have photosensitive epilepsy)
- Talking to your doctor if your seizures follow a pattern connected to your menstrual cycle
- Eating regular meals
Epilepsy Action’s booklet and web pages about epilepsy and wellbeing have more detailed information about lifestyle changes which could reduce your risk of seizures.
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.
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 Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Wendy Burton, Epilepsy Nurse Specialist, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust UK, for reviewing some possible seizure triggers .
Wendy Burton has no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated March 2017To be reviewed March 2020