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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 16 comments or add yours

Comments

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

Hi Colin. I just read your question and felt I must comment because I personally have experienced (only earlier in my epilepsy onset-now I don't usually have warning signs anymore) & also have heard from MANY people suffering from grand mal seizures that the symptoms you have stated are common and prevalent.
I'm not certain but it seems to be the case in people who have only just begun having seizures. I THINK perhaps it may also be more common in patients with alcoholism, and such related brain complications such as dementia, stroke, ISCHAEMIA etc.
I have felt slow, hungover, confused, blank, tremors, stuttering whilst trying to talk and cannot continue speaking, and sensitivity to lights.
Do you suffer from ischaemia (lacking adequate oxygen in blood/cardiovascular or bp problems)?
Just curious.
Also, I take lamotrigine 300mg and I feel somewhat groggy during the days but I force myself to get up and walk etc.
Perhaps you should discuss other medications with your NEUROLOGIST!!! Keep diazepam on you incase you suffer bad seizures during medication change!!! DIAZEPAM was invented for immediate relief of grand mal seizures. Good luck.

Submitted by Lily 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

Hi my Grandson has Epilepsy and severe Autism non verbal. This has started since he went into Pubity.
My question is could the dog hairs from my Jack Russel Trigger off a fit. I don't think it would but my son does. My Grandson comes to my house for tea and he has most fits in my house. After he has had tea and we are relaxing.
He stays overnight at his special school on a Wednesday and these always happen on a Thursday tea time. I think it could be that he is tired from extra activities. But my son thinks it is the dog as he moults a lot. Can you help with advice please.q

Submitted by Ruth Barclay.q on

Hi Ruth

Thank you for your question.

I hope my answer will reassure you and your grandson.

We are not aware of dog hair triggering seizures. But it’s well recognised that tiredness and lack of sleep can. https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/triggers

If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us our helpline team directly, either by email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. Our helpline is open Monday to Thursday 8.30am until 8.00pm, Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Hi I was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2004 but had my first fit in 2000. At that time I was fit and healthy and a fit came as a bit of a surprise. Over the last 18 years I have battled this condition and have some info based on my personal experience. I only sleep for 6 hours at night, always have, I drink lots of coffee and hardly any water, always have, my biggest triggers seem to be heat, concentration, and a food enhancer called mono- sodium- glutamate. This I found in KFC, Chinese foods, crisps, and lots of other food stuffs. I take phenytoin and carbamazapine as meds, and suffer loads of pre seziures but tend to only have a full blown grand mal seziures once a year. I have had back to back seziures, and like most epileptics have had some very lucky escapes with my life thanks to this condition, however all that being said it's the pre seziures that annoy me, I work for myself because I can't sack myself for having a fit at work. Which happens regardless of the legal side of things. And I also drive until I have a "flash" then I have to leave my car and walk home, or phone a lift. We all want to find the answers to this condition but I don't think we can, it's just a case of bad luck and try and live the best way we can while trying to remain as safe as possible, good luck everyone.

Submitted by Andy on

I need some advice about seizures... 1

Submitted by Liz godwin on

Dear Liz

Thank you for your comment.  

We have information about seizures on our website.

You can also contact our helpline team and talk to an epilepsy adviser. You can either email helpline@epilepsy.org.uk  or phone the Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050 (UK Only). Our helpline is open Monday to Thursday 8.30am until 8.00pm, Friday 8.30am until 4.30pm and Saturday 10.00am until 4.00pm.

Regards

Diane

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Diane-Epilepsy ... on

Hi my partner has recently been diagnosed with epilepsy and has been prescribed Epilim. His dose was 300mg a day and is about to increase to 500 mg. Since taking it regularly he has not had a seizure . His seizures were the grand mal type and his triggers were lack of sleep and after a night of drinking for a celebration. My fear is that he will have a seizure whilst out on his own, what is the likelihood of this happening ? It is really stressing me out. We do not drink anymore and make sure he eats regularly.

Submitted by Heather Ratcliff on

Hi there,
500mg Epilim is good (I WAS on 1200mg Epilim but switched to Lamotrigine which was better for ME & my brain condition; DVA + Cavernous Angioma haematoma) & sounds good that yr doctor is currently increasing his dosage.
I know what it is like to worry about yr partner or loved one. MY father has early dementia & I've just discovered that he has NOT been taking his meds for 3 months and refuses to adhere to prescription. GRRRR!
Anyway...
....all you can do is a) MAKE SURE HE TAKES HIS MEDICATION! b) REALLY TRY TO MAKE HIM NOT DRINK ALCOHOL OR EDUCATE HIM ABOUT THE FATAL RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ALCOHOL INDUCED EPILEPSY!!! I had to learn this and nearly died!
!!!perhaps have him prescribed Naltexone to help with alcoholic cravings? but remember that if he drinks whilst taking this medication it COULD make epilepsy worse....
c) *I've said this before--i 100% BELIEVE IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT SEIZURE SUFFERERS CARRY DIAZEPAM OR OXAZEPAM ON THEM 24/7 FOR IMMEDIATE RELIEF OF BAD SEIZURES. this can be given after a grand mal seizure (bkoz the risk of another seizure occuring soon after the first is high& you want to prevent brain damage caused). Oxazepam dissolves VERY QUICKLY so easily digested.
I don't know of the LEGALITIES regarding I.V diazepam-i think it's only administered by emergency staff BUT IF it's possible to get this way from yr doctor for emergency treatment, then that is the best treatment.
Get him a mediAlert bracelet & maybe a siren thing that sounds to alert people nearby of emergency.
YOU can always "track" him too if you're REALLY worried! haha!
Goodluck

Submitted by Lily on

Hi, my daughter is 31 and has had epilepsy since age 4 she was put on epilim then taken off after 4 years fir free. At age 12 she started having fits again following a near drowning experience in Portugal and was put on tegretol and stayed fit free until her 18th birthday (forgot to take meds). At 28 she became a mom. She had no fits during pregnancy and stayed on tegretol 800 mg. when baby was 3 months she thinks she had a fit but gp ruled this out. When baby was 18 months she had a fit and neurologist added 100 mg of lamotrigine and sent for eeg. Nothing different showed on eeg and she went fit free for 18 months. Since dec18 she has had 4 fits the last one yesterday 19/5/2019 after her lamotrigine had been increased to 150mg. Blood tests showed nothing abnormal and she has now been told there is nothing more that can be done. She does not get any warnings before the fits although until the pregnancy she always did. Have you any advice please, as a mother I’m at my wits end and dread it when I see hers or her husbands name come up on my phone.

Submitted by Annette Hadley on

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