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Some common seizure triggers

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

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.

Stress

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.

Monthly periods

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.

Missing meals

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.

Code: 
F095.03

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 2017
    To be reviewed March 2020

Comments: read the 20 comments or add yours

Comments

Hi,

Thank you for this website. The contents are excellent. I have recently been diagnosed with epilepsy, and have found the material on this site informative, and reassuring.

Keep up the good work.

Sean

Submitted by Sean Foley on

I had a traumatic brain injury aged 22. I developed my first seizure aged 30. I have had two in total. I have been diagnosed with traumatic epilepsy and am now on medication.
On both occasions when I had seizures I was tired, sleep-deprived and dehydrated.
I would say these are my seizure triggers.
Thankfully, since starting medication and changing from working shifts (including night shifts) to working regular hours, and staying well hydrated, I have been seizure-free.
I hope this will continue.

Submitted by Eoghan McCloskey on

Thank you for this website, I am unable to express how invaluable its been since I started having epileptic seizures 8 years ago at 45 years old with no family history of epilepsy that we are aware of and not as a result of any injury. I have used this website as a great source of learning to understand and accept the changes in me. I am currently taking, tegrotol 600mg daily, brivaracetam 200mg daily and phenobarbital 75mg daily having tried various medications to bring us to this combination. I had TL surgery in 2013 and are currently awaiting admission to hospital in London for further surgery. It has taken me a long time to learn to understand my own epilepsy and its dictating limitations but I do now feel that I have more control and I strive to maintain how I can maximise on seizure free periods of time, the longest I have ever gone without having a seizure is 8 days (this only happened once) but filled me with confirmation that I can take control as limited as this may be to making a difference and above all this this brings a great deal of comfort to me.

Submitted by Angela Hainsworth on

Dear Angela

Thank you so much for your lovely comment about our website.

If you don’t mind, please will you complete our  feedback webpage or can I copy your comment on to our feedback webpage?  We use this information to help when we apply for funding to keep our services going.

It sounds like you have some difficult time due to your epilepsy. I wonder if you are aware of the Epilepsy Surgery Friends Facebook page where people share their experiences of surgery for epilepsy both before and after. It could be of help to you.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

if I drink Lucozade within 1 hour my blood sugar levels drop to a level where I am close to have a seizure. I no longer drink Lucozade and have cut 90% of the sugar I used to add to my food and drinks I have also added salt to my cooking which I never did before these are the only 2 things I have changed in my diet and have not had a seizure in 3 years.i am lead to believe when I have large amount of sugar I have a sugar spike shortly afterwards followed by a very fast drop in blood sugar this always happens within 1 hour of consumption . cutting the sugar out and adding salt seem to have cured this. the salt seems to help holding water in my body.

Submitted by michael mulligan on

hi im armida im 29 iv had epilpesy since the age of 13 iv been on several medications and now im on clomazipan and lemotrogine i could have a normal day then all of a sudden my arms jerk for example today iv been ok doing my day to day stuff then my arms started jerking when i was doing the dishes is there any advice you can give me to avoid these minor seizures

Submitted by armida camilleri on

Hi Camilleri

Thank you for your post. These unpredictable jerks must be difficult to cope with.

If these jerks are epilepsy related it would be best to talk to your epilepsy specialist so they can review your treatment and look at other possible reasons for why your seizures are still happening. They may suggest trying a different epilepsy medicine.  If you have tried various types of epilepsy medicines, it may be the specialist could look into other treatment options for you.

If you are not under a specialist, you will need to ask your family doctor to refer you. This would usually be to a neurologist. The ideal would be to someone with a specialist interest in epilepsy, as there are many different neurological conditions, and neurologists tend to specialise in different ones.

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us directly, either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or phone 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

Hi Diane
I a drinking a coffee or tea when I have a pain in my right side lower part of osopheagus, I have a second or two warning before I pass out only mometarily. As I come to I feel emotional my head aches and I am heady and confused and cannot think properly for several hours. The last twice my right hand has been moving quite strongly but involuntarily . I am 82. This has only been happening over the last 6 months. I would appreciate your comments. Thank you. Morwenna

Submitted by Morwenna on

Hi Morwenna

I don’t know exactly what is happening for you. But  you might want to discuss this with your family doctor.

Here is our information about focal seizures in case the family doctor thinks this might be what your episodes are.

The doctor may refer you to a neurologist.

Regards

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Thank you for your reply. I saw my GP was seen in for immediate assessment as my GP thought there may be blood leakage into my brain. Had scan, all was ok. Have now been referred to a neurologist. Thank you so much for your reply.
Morwenna

Submitted by Morwenna on

I have epilepsy. diagnosed in 2015 . first massive seizure in march 2015 prior to removal of meningioma. regular mri scans now. i had my craniotomy in april 2015 and now have another meningioma being monitored. i get very tired and tried working but could not keep it up as i got tired and worried. i have a partner who looks after me and i applied for attendance allowance as she cannot work full time. i was turned down and struggle to live on only my pension. any advice?

Submitted by soozi on

I've known about alcohol and caffeine all of my life as being a couple of the causes of my cp seizures. I still have seizures about once a month and have also stumbled upon a long list of other foods that I eat daily that can cause seizures. Do you know of any survey/study that gives the statistics/odds of endangerment for those many foods to be eaten? "Alcohol" might give the odds of 50/50 while "white breads" might be said to only increase your chance of having a seizure to 1/10,000. Then I/we might have a better idea of what our risks are when we eat our whatever wherever.

Submitted by Jeff Curtis on

Hi Jeff

As you can see our list of possible seizure triggers is fairly limited. There is anecdotal evidence about a variety of other possible triggers. But no medical research to back this up. And we  aren’t aware of any survey that would give statistics about triggers either. This is probably because it’s such a very individual thing. And often there is no obvious cause for someone seizures.

Regards 

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

I've had ep for 25 years and only recently found out that having 2-3 catnaps a day makes all the difference! No Dr has ever mentioned it!

Submitted by Pete on

I get lots of notice I am going to have a seizure , hangover like symptoms, no appetite,confusion/tiredness,one second absences, diarrhoea often 6-8 hours. On the last one I tried plenty of water, forced myself to eat, rested/slept and still had a seizure . I’m 48 and had been clear of seizures since 1996 but have restarted. I’m on 100mg Of Lamotrigine and gave up alcohol but am getting fed up wakening up in A&E and worrying my wife! Is this level of notice of these very distinct pre seizure symptoms common? I’ve just heard of aura just before?

Submitted by Colin B on

Hi Colin

I think that amount of ‘warning’ is quite unusual. But some people do have what is called a prodrome.

If it is a consistent warning I wonder if you have ever talked with your specialist about being able to take an epilepsy medicine at the time? Most epilepsy medicines must be taken on a completely regularly basis in order to have an effect. But in some circumstances it may be possible to have a medicine which you take as needed. If so this might be able to prevent the seizure happening.

Also your lamotrigine dose is on the lower side. So maybe they need to consider increasing it.

I do hope your seizures get under control again soon.

Regards 

Cherry  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Thank you for your website! I am pre-diagnosed with epilepsy at the moment as had 2 grand mals in the last 3 months (last one was last Friday) that were noticed by other people. After talking to doctors in assessment unit at hospital who referred me to neurologist I am sure now I have had similar seizures before on my own as I noticed a lot of times bruises on my body backgrounds of which I couldn't explain. But what I really considered of is that those last seizures happened on first day of my period. I know that one of the reason why I had those seizures was stress caused by arguments with my Mum (she really drives me mad all the time and after them I cry most of the time). But I would never imagine that epilepsy seizures might be linked to period. Why is that? And does it mean that mostly I can have them that time? Thank you. Mila

Submitted by Mila on

Dear Mila 

Thank you for your question. 

Some women might have more seizures than usual at certain times in their menstrual cycle. This could be at the start of their period, around the middle of their cycle (when they ovulate) or in the week before their period. 

It’s thought it’s to do with the changes in the hormones that control your menstrual cycle that cause you to have more seizures at this time. This is called catamenial epilepsy. 

If you think you have catamenial epilepsy, try keeping a seizure diary for 3 months, to see if there is a clear pattern. If there is, your doctor can look at possible treatments with you, such as a prescription for the drug clobazam (Frisium). Clobazam is taken as well as your usual epilepsy medicine, but just on the days when you are at risk of having seizures.  

Also in this diary keep a note of any other seizures and possible triggers. If there are other possible triggers, such as stress, you may wish to look at ways to help you cope with these situations.

https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/wellbeing 

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 on

How can i stop a seizure from triggering

Submitted by Autumn gibson on

Hi Autumn

Thank you for your question.

If you know what your seizure triggers are then it’s a good idea to do your best to avoid them, though we know this isn’t always easy. For example, if your seizures are triggered by tiredness it would be a good idea to keep a good sleep routine and avoid late nights. And we have more information about lifestyle changes that could reduce your risk of seizures on our wellbeing pages (https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/wellbeing).

If you’re unsure what triggers your seizures, then keeping a seizure diary is a good way to find out (https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/diagnosis/seizure-diary). Keeping a record of your seizures, when you have them, what you’re doing at the time and how you’re feeling can help you to see if there are any patterns.

It’s worth knowing that not everybody with epilepsy has particular seizure triggers. So if you have looked for a pattern to your seizures and haven’t be able to find any triggers, that may be because there aren’t any.

 

Regards 

Jess

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

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