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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 your epilepsy medicine as prescribed

Taking your epilepsy medicines regularly, as prescribed by your doctor, will help to keep a steady level of the medicine in your blood. Several studies have shown that if you miss a dose of your epilepsy medicines, the risk that you will have a seizure increases.

Feeling tired and not getting enough sleep

Feeling tired and not get enough sleep are two of the most common things that people with epilepsy say trigger their seizures.


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 behaviour, such as changing their sleeping or eating habits, drinking more alcohol, and feeling anxious or depressed. All of these can also increase the risk of having a seizure.

Epilepsy Action has more information about stress.


Several studies show that drinking small or modest amounts of alcohol does not increase the risk of having seizures. But if you have a history of alcohol abuse, even drinking small amounts could increase the number of seizures you have. This is also the case if you have had seizures related to drinking alcohol in the past.

Drinking more than modest amounts of alcohol in 24 hours can increase the risk of having seizures. For most people, the risk is highest when the alcohol is leaving their body after they have had a drink. This risk is highest between six and 48 hours after they have stopped drinking.

Epilepsy Action has more information about alcohol.

Flashing or flickering lights

Around three in 100 people with epilepsy have seizures which are triggered by flashing or flickering lights, or some patterns. This is called photosensitive epilepsy.

For people with 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.

Menstruation (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.

What can I do to avoid my seizure triggers?

It’s a personal choice, but you might want to consider making some lifestyle changes. 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. See Seizure triggers.

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you

We can provide references and information on the source material we use to write our epilepsy advice and information pages. Please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk.

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Lesley McCoy, Epilepsy Nurse Specialist, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, UK, for reviewing Epilepsy and travel abroad.

Lesley McCoy has no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated March 2014
    To be reviewed March 2017

Comments: read the 10 comments or add yours


Im 23 years old, ive been having seizures since i was 13. The doctors here in the states cant figure out why i have them, and for some reason cant even find much abnormal brain activity. I have been on many different types of medications. And last year i started having seizures during the day. Before it was only while i slept i have never had a problem loseing urine or bowels. The last one was less than a month ago. I have read a few posts on here even though older there are a few things i would like to answer. There was a girl on here asking about her friend and how she should act toward him because he had a fit at school. Dont act differently just learn the basics in case it happens when your there. I was severly ridiculed in school for having them " freak" seemed to be the choice word. But anyways if anyone has any ideas of what i could ask my neurologist when i go in next that would be great! Or if you know someone who has the same thing going on? Just please help. Im so tired of this.

Submitted by lauren on

Hi Lauren

It must be difficult living with uncontrolled epilepsy and the cruel way some people react to it.

If you haven’t already, for general information on diagnosis and treatment you may wish to view our information. However, please remember our information is relevant for healthcare in the UK only. It may be different in America. For this reason you may wish to contact the Epilepsy Foundation in America.   

If you’d like to contact others we have our online community forum4e. This is for people with epilepsy and carers of people with epilepsy.  The forum allows people for around the world to discuss anything and everything with other people who have epilepsy. It has a forum with areas to discuss subjects such as medication, seizures and so on, and share experiences. https://forum.epilepsy.org.uk/



Advice and Information Team

Submitted by JohnA on

I was clear of epilepsy for 17 years. I had petit mal fits from the age of 8 until I was 16 when they developed into grand mal. I had a seizure in August 2012 and went back on Sodium Valporate and had to surrender my driving licence. Even though I had taken this medication previously, I developed bruises and I was prescribed Lamictal. On 6th June 2013, after being 10 months seizure clear, I had another one. On 6th June this year
I was a year clear and I reapplied for my driving licence on June 9th. On June 14th I had another seizure whilst out shopping. I have noticed that recently I have been very tired, I find it hard to wake up in the morning, my eyes become blurry and I get double vision (this used to be my warnings for my fits but my consultant dismisses this and says it is not significant), I also get hot and sweat a lot but this has been put down to the fact that I have gone through the menopause (I am 50). On the day of the fit I was very confused and couldn't get my words out properly. I can't understand why my fits have returned and why they seem to be happening once a year at the same time of the year. I have requested another MRI scan just in case they missed something but have been told I can't have one as they did one last year. Would a CT scan be more detailed. I need answers because I want my life back.

Submitted by Kate Jones on

Hi Kate

It sounds like you have been going through a hard time.

It is strange that you have your seizures on just about a yearly basis. But I have spoken to a number of other people who experience something similar. I’m afraid I have no explanation of that for you.

A CT scan is less detailed than an MRI scan so it wouldn’t give you extra information.

We are not medically trained. But I do have a few suggestions of things that could be contributing to your current ill health.

Have you had any change in the level of your epilepsy medicine? Some people can experience tiredness and double vision if they have too much of their epilepsy medicine in their system at any one time. This could be related to the time of day you take your medicine. For example if you take two doses and one dose is much less than 12 hours after the other, this may give too high a concentration of the medicine in your system at that time.

Another explanation could be if you have gained or lost a considerable amount of weight. That again would alter how much Lamictal you had in your system at any time.

If you think any of this is relevant to you, I suggest talking to your GP about it.

I understand you’re taking Lamictal just now. Has your medicine changed from the branded Lamictal to the generic lamotrigine at any point? Or have you been given a type of Lamictal that has been made outside the UK? For some people these types of medicine changes can cause breakthrough seizures.

Do you think you may be having sleep seizures? These could possibly explain why you feel so tired in the mornings.

Also you might want to look at some of the symptoms people can experience with various types of focal seizures. And if you feel any of them sound similar to your experience you may want to try that conversation with your neurologist again.

Menopause can sometimes have an effect on seizure control. But often there is no explanation for why people’s seizures return after some years.

We have an online community, forum4e. This is for people with epilepsy and carers of people with epilepsy. People can find it really helpful to talk to other people in a similar situation.

I do hope this information is useful for you, in getting some understanding of what is happening for you and why. And that things improve for you soon.


Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry on

I have never had a generalised seizure but have had 'absences', which I now know are partial seizures in the temporal lobe, two to three times a day since childhood. I am fifty four years old and was diagnosed in October 2014. I thought I was suffering psychosis as a result of drugs I had been given for cancer but the oncologist sent me to see a neurologist and she diagnosed epilepsy. I also have (fairly mild) athetoid type cerebral palsy, which was diagnosed when I was eight and had PTSD around the same time.

I was given Kepra because most other drugs interfere with the cancer drugs, but I stopped taking them because they made me suicidal (I've been chronically depressed most of my life but never suicidal) and as soon as I stopped taking them, the suicidal ideation went away.

I'm cancer free now but I don't know how to deal with the realisation that this could have been under control by now, and perhaps if it had been, I might have been more in control of my life. So, I have two questions.

1) After half a century of seizures, is there any point in trying to treat it now? I had a boss who was diagnosed twenty years ago and the seizures still aren't under control. So, do the risks of the medicines themselves not outway the risks of temporal lobe seizures themselves.

2) How do I deal with the mental health problems and the anger? I was discharged from psychiatric care and told that my anger was justified, I was not psychotic nor depressed at this time, and while I had some issues around memory and identity, they were probably caused by the epilepsy and a psychiatist could not help me. I feel abandoned.

Submitted by Alcuin Edwards on

Dear Alcuin

Firstly congratulations on being cancer free. That is such an achievement.

It can be a difficult time when you have to make the decision of whether to take epilepsy medication or not. We cannot say whether you should or shouldn’t but we can covered some issues that are advisable to consider when making your decision.

Most people take epilepsy medicine to control their condition. Here is a link to how epilepsy is managed with epilepsy medicine. 

If you are no longer taking cancer drugs will more epilepsy medicines be available for you? If you are still taking cancer drugs, are any of the newer epilepsy medicine suitable?

If epilepsy medicine isn’t an option, is any other type of treatment an option?

If you choose not to start on medication, there is no research to suggest your epilepsy would become worse because of this. There are in fact many people who choose not to take medication, especially when their seizures are very infrequent. This may also be the case when their seizures only happen in their sleep.

Many people with epilepsy taking medication means they lead a normal lifestyle. Around 70 per cent of people with epilepsy have their seizures controlled with epilepsy treatment.

Ongoing activity (seizure) could affect a person’s daily activity.

Seizures also run the risk of injury and there is a low risk of dying because of epilepsy. This could be due to an injury or Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). I have given you this information not to scare you but to make you aware of possible complications with uncontrolled epilepsy.

If your behaviour, moods and memory problems are caused by your epilepsy, the only way to stop these problems, is to stop the epileptic activity that is causing them. An epilepsy specialist could explore this with you.

I hope this will help you with your decision. If we can be of any more help, please feel free to contact us again, either by email or the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 


Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane@Epilepsy ... on

I am female aged 68 I will be 69 in December and this year I started to experience what I now know to be classed as "Absences'" I was referred by my GP to the TIA clinic she thought they were mini strokes I thought I had dementia and was told there it was epilepsy I was given medication but I continued to have absences and on Thursday I had my first full epileptic seizure gratefully my husband was with me and he rang for an ambulance. Since then I have had bouts of feeling sick and have to go and open my bowels urgently( not diarrhoea.) I have been lucky enough to have a hospital apt this morning with the stroke doctor who has refereed me to the Epilepsy team and has also increased my medication. What I need to know is the sickness and overwhelming tiredness and the age I have started having attacks a normal part of epilepsy.

Submitted by Gloria Bullen on

Hi Gloria

It must have been a shock getting diagnosed with epilepsy. But epilepsy can start at any age. There are many types of epilepsy. Some types start when you are very young, and some in later life.

Hopefully when you see the epilepsy team they will confirm the type of epilepsy you have. It’s possible you don’t have absence seizures but focal seizures. Absence seizures usually start in childhood between the ages of four to nine years of age. Whilst focal seizures can start at any age.

Sometimes when a person has a focal seizure it is possible for the seizure to progress into a full seizure (tonic-clonic seizure).

The sickness and needing to open your bowels could possibly be a coincidence, but epilepsy is individual. May be you could keep a diary of all your symptoms to show the epilepsy team.

When you first start on epilepsy medicine you may get side-effects. Once your body has had a few days or weeks to get used to taking it, they should lessen or disappear completely. If they don’t disappear or get worse, talk to your family doctor or epilepsy team. They might make changes to your epilepsy medicine to lessen the side-effects.

Whilst waiting for your appointment, you may find it helpful to look at our information on Preparing for your appointment

Hope this has answered your questions. 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.


Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

Is it normal for triggers to be extremely specific sensory or psychological circumstances? I've just been diagnosed with TLE, I've had simple and partial seizures for about 12 years. the first one I remember very clearly, I had just crossed a busy road and I remember staring back into the traffic for a couple of minutes feeling kind of drained and confused. Since then I've had seizures very sporadically, multiple times a day for maybe a week but then I'm often seizure free for up to 6 months afterwards. The one consistent thing I've noticed is that 80% of my seizures seem to occur when I am either looking at a road or thinking about roads/crossing roads. Do people ever report specific triggers/correlations like this? I get very paranoid and irrational for a few minutes following these seizures, it would be a great comfort to me if I knew this bizarre correlation was something medically explainable.

Submitted by Lula on